Tenfold watched silently as the red-clad woman floated from store to store in the packed mall. She carried several large bags slung over her shoulder and gleefully filled them in each place as the terrified store clerks stood helplessly by. As far as criminal acts were concerned, it wasn’t exactly diabolical. She never went near the jewelry store; the most expensive thing she’d placed in one of her bags was a gaming console, and even then she only took one.
Normally Tenfold would have left the petty criminal to one of the newbie heroes. The problem with that, in this case, was the way the woman flew. Something about it sent chills down her spine. It was like watching someone float in water. She didn’t angle her body to turn or pitch forward and back to change her speed; rather, she hung leisurely in the air and the world moved around her.
It’s eerie, a part of her thought quietly.
Let someone else handle it, a second part agreed.
“I can’t,” Tenfold whispered to herself. “We don’t know who she is.” She glanced at her com one more time, hoping the Association would get back to her and identify the unknown super.
I don’t like it. The new voice was always one of reason. Tenfold knew better than to ignore that part of her. Her intuition was never wrong.
“Why not?” Tenfold asked. A passing shopper looked at her with a strange expression, but she ignored it. It wasn’t the first time strangers found her odd, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Technically she didn’t need to speak out loud to the voices in her head; it was a bad habit.
Most villains wear black. The ones that are okay with sticking out are the most dangerous. Another shiver went up her spine. As usual, her intuition had a point.
The red-clad villain didn’t even wear a normal uniform. She had tall red boots, loose red pants, a red turtleneck, and a flowing red jacket over it all. A red ski mask covered the villain’s hair and face completely. Whoever it was didn’t want anyone to guess who she was, but she clearly wanted to be seen.
It’s not a registered villain, another voice added. It can’t be. The Association would have gotten back to us by now.
Tenfold looked at her com again. Still no response. She sighed, rubbing her temples as voices clamored for her to run away. But she couldn’t. The shoppers and store clerks on the floors the woman visited were scared. She had to do something about it.
Please no. Intuition, yet again, screamed at her that it was a mistake.
“We have to. If she’s not registered, she needs to be taken in and face punishment.” Several voices inside of Tenfold’s head groaned. “We can fight about it later. Just get out here.”
One by one, several forms stepped out of Tenfold’s body. The voices in her head grew quiet until, at last, she was the only one left. The blessed silence was peaceful, but also a bit lonely. She didn’t like to be separated from the others for long. The other figures were all perfect duplicates of Tenfold, each looking to her with different expressions ranging from irritation to outright mutiny.
“We can fight about it later,” Tenfold said. “For now, we’ll focus on bringing her down.”
“I’m not sure we can,” Intuition said. She looked uneasily toward the red villain, before turning back to the others. “Call for backup.”
“We are our own backup,” one of the duplicates muttered. She practically vibrated with excitement. That one was always ready for a fight, for no other reason than to test herself. Obviously, that competitive spirit was a very small part of Tenfold, because the rest of the duplicates shifted uneasily at the thought.
“I’ll call,” Tenfold muttered, giving her competitive self a stern look. She typed out a quick message and waited a few seconds for a response. “ETA ten minutes.”
“What if she’s gone by then?” one part of her asked.
“What if she hurts someone?” another chimed in.
Tenfold chewed on her lip and peeked around the corner at the red woman. Her breath caught in her chest. The woman was turned, fully looking at the pillar behind which she and her duplicates remained hidden. Her posture was casual, hands in pockets as the tail and belt of her long jacket flowed out behind her.
“We’ll have to keep her busy,” Tenfold said.
Before the others could complain, she stepped out from behind the pillar and struck a pose. She genuinely hated this part of the job, but if the shoppers thought this was anything other than a normal, planned show then they would panic. People could get hurt. As far as they were concerned, this whole episode needed to be nothing more than a silly pro-wrestling match with super powers. Because that’s how things were done.
“Halt, in the name of justice!” A couple of her duplicates chuckled at the stupid line. She fought to keep from turning around and glaring to shut them up. “I don’t know what makes you think you have the right to rob these innocent people, but I’m here to protect the peace! Leave these people alone!”
The red woman floated smoothly down, hovering in the open air on the other side of the railing in front of Tenfold. She laughed, her clear voice ringing out to the crowd around them. “Innocent? Oh, please. None of these people are innocent, little hero. Their minds are full of dark deeds, just waiting to come to light.”
Tenfold nearly melted with relief. This woman, whoever she was, played the game. She couldn’t be that dangerous, right?
“Don’t let your guard down,” Intuition whispered behind her.
Almost on cue, Tenfold’s body froze in place, as if the air around her solidified. The red woman floated upwards and Tenfold followed suit, panicking. Below, her duplicated rushed out from behind the pillar. Two of them leapt into the air to grab hold of Tenfold’s feet. The rest sped up the steps, following along on the sidelines to try and encircle the villain.
“Who are you? What are you doing to me?” Tenfold yelled.
“My name is Psych,” the red woman announced. “And I’m here to bring the darkness to light.”
Tenfold struggled against whatever force bound her body, grunting with effort. One of the duplicates that dangled from her legs climbed up, first steadying herself by using Tenfold’s feet as a platform before clambering up to her shoulders and leaping toward Psych. The supervillain twisted out of the way, allowing the duplicate to sail uselessly past before freezing her in an awkward pose.
Two more duplicates leapt toward Psych at different angles. For a moment, it seemed as if the pincer attack might catch her off guard; but then she dropped down several feet, allowing the duplicates to collide in the air and freezing them at the moment of impact. She laughed heartily and twisted her hand, setting the duplicates spinning in place. Tenfold and the strangely posed duplicate twisted around in a wide orbit of the two embracing duplicates.
“Oh, this is fun,” Psych said, raising an arm flamboyantly. More duplicates rushed her all at once, but the villain froze all of them in various embarrassing poses before sending them into orbit along with the others.
“Let us go, Psych. This isn’t a game.” Intuition stood at the outside edge of the top floor, staring down at the cluster of duplicates as they spun helplessly around one another.
“Isn’t it?” Psych asked, touching her chin in thought. “It seems like a nice little game to me.”
Intuition launched herself forward at the villain. Before Psych could freeze her in place, she threw a fistful of dirt at the woman. Psych called out in pain as the dirt hit her hard in the face, distracting her just long enough for Intuition to land a solid punch to the gut.
Psych flew backwards, slamming hard into a pillar. Intuition landed on a duplicate, absorbing her back into her body, before dropping lightly to the ground and disappeared back into the mall. The villain stood slowly, shaking herself off and brushing dust from her clothes.
“You pack quite the punch, little girl,” Psych taunted, floating back up. “That was a mean little trick you played, don’t you think? Unbecoming of a hero.”
Something pelted Psych from behind and the woman turned, one hand out as if ready to freeze someone. When her back was turned, Intuition and the rescued duplicate leapt out to recapture more of the captured clones, disappearing once again before Psych could capture them.
“That trick won’t work a second time,” Psych growled.
“How about this, then?” Intuition leapt from below, slamming Psych upward into a beam. Psych moaned in pain and several of the duplicates broke free of her grasp as she lost her concentration.
Again and again the duplicates took advantage of the villain’s blind spots, slamming her into walls, distracting her as more of the duplicates were rescued, until the last of them was finally free of her grasp.
Tenfold checked her comm again and nodded toward Intuition. Backup was here. It was time to end this. All of the duplicates surrounded Psych on all sides. The woman heaved, exhausted. She dropped a few feet in the air before gaining altitude again. The contents of her bags of loot were scattered around, forgotten in the fight.
“It’s time to take you in,” Intuition said. “You’re no match for all of us, Psych.”
“That’s what you think,” the villain gasped. She raised her arms and the entire building began to shake.
As one, Tenfold and all of the duplicates rushed out of their hiding places, high over the villain’s head. For a moment, they all paused briefly in the air, shuddering briefly before continuing forward. In the center, above Psych’s head, Tenfold collided with her duplicates, reabsorbing them into her body. She dropped on top of Psych and slammed her fists down onto the woman’s shoulders, sending her shooting down to the ground so hard that a crater formed where she landed.
Tenfold dropped down next to the woman, breathing heavily as all the shoppers cheered her victory. Something about the crater gave her pause. “Have I ever hit anyone that hard before?” she whispered.
We can’t hit that hard, a voice in her head whispered.
Something’s wrong, Intuition agreed. Her clothes aren’t ripped. After a fight like that, they should be damaged, right?
“Your right,” Tenfold agreed. She slowly made her way to the woman lying unconscious in the middle of the crater, body tensed for a trick. Her backup would be here any second to help her clean up, but the worry made her overly cautious.
Tenfold knelt beside Psych, reaching out to touch the woman’s mask.
She blinked and Psych was gone.
“What…” Tenfold looked around. She was surrounded by members of the Hero Association.
“Tenfold?” The Mentalist asked nervously. “Are you alright?”
“Yes. I’m fine.” She stood up and looked around, confused. “When did you all get here? Where is Psych? Did you take her away?”
They’re looking at us weird. Tenfold shivered and clutched herself for warmth. The other heroes traded glances before the Mentalist rested a calming hand on her shoulder.
“She got away. You were frozen in place. No one could wake you until I broke you out of the psychic hold she’d placed on you.” The words were loud and reassuring, but Tenfold couldn’t help but notice the slight waver in his voice; he wasn’t certain. Why wasn’t he certain?
Tenfold stared down at her hands rather than look at the confused heroes that surrounded her–and went still. Tucked into one of her sleeves was a small slip of paper. Shaking nervously, she unfolded the note, reading it over twice and still unable to stop the shivers that wracked her body. A duplicate stepped out of her and took the note.
“I’ll take it from here,” her calm self said, gently touching Tenfold on the shoulder.
Tenfold nodded and allowed herself to be absorbed into her duplicate.
“Psych left us a note,” the calmer version of Tenfold said, handing it to the Mentalist.
What did she do to me? a voice in her head wondered. Why don’t I remember? All the voices in her head murmured amongst themselves, but Tenfold ignored it as she watched her compatriots with level eyes.
“What is it?” the Mentalist asked.
“An address. And a timestamp.”
“Another attack, maybe?” One of the heroes asked. The others crowded around, checking the note quietly. The Mentalist didn’t join in. He watched Tenfold, worry in his expression.
“Are you alright?” he whispered.
No. No, I don’t think I am.