Vesper’s movement made lightning look slow. Her fist connected with Adelaide’s stomach before anyone even had a chance to blink. Lydia jumped towards her but Vesper spun and her leg smashed into the lizard’s jawbone. There was a horrible crunching noise and Lydia gave a moan of pain and fell back, clutching her mouth.
Coal lunged towards Lee and breathed a gout of greenish fumes into his face. Lee coughed madly and stepped back, blinking his eyes to try and stop them stinging. Emma clasped Coal’s shoulders with hands of flame. He didn’t even seem to react to his clothes catching alight, instead rolling his body forward in a fluid motion that flipped Emma over his back.
The cricket bat whistled past Vesper’s face and she leapt forward again, kicks, jabs and punches repeatedly striking home. Sinking down against the alley wall Adelaide groaned. Vesper smiled cruelly and did a backflip, somersaulting through a startled Francis. Landing on the other side she wrapped her arms around his neck and threw him to the ground.
Turning, Vesper pursed her lips and whistled to Coal. He glanced around and nodded, then turned back to Lee, who had backed up against a wall. Coughing into his hand he breathed a blast of gas at his victim whose hands shot up to cover his face. Coal stepped forward and punched him, sending Lee crashing to the ground. Without even looking at her, Coal gave Vesper a thumbs up.
Stepping over to the prone Adelaide, lying against a wall, Vesper went down on her haunches and did her sharp, angular grin.
“I’ve got to say,” she said, her face close to Adelaide’s, her voice quiet, “I saw a team of vigilantes standing in that alley’s mouth, for the briefest of seconds my heart actually skipped a beat. Fortunately, you were even more pathetic than I could ever have hoped.”
Adelaide didn’t reply. Her whole body felt like it was on fire.
“Come on,” Vesper smirked, “did you ever think you were going to be able to beat us? We’ve been fighting for years. How long has your two-bit team been going? A few weeks?”
In the distance there was the sound of police sirens.
“Looks like we’ve got company,” Coal said, “let’s get out of here.”
“Just a second, can’t you see I’m giving some friendly advice?” Vesper said over her shoulder, then she turned back to Adelaide, “Listen though, this whole hero thing? Give it up. You’re not helping anyone, especially not yourselves. There are some really nasty people out there…”
She got to her feet and kicked Adelaide in the side.
“We meet again and I’ll be a lot less nice,” she muttered, “come on Coal, let’s get out of here.”
There was the sound of departing footsteps, then silence. Slowly, wincing as she did so, Adelaide got to her feet. It felt like there was a hole in one of her lungs. Around her the others were picking themselves up. The sound of sirens was getting louder.
“Alright,” she said, “we need to go.”
“What?” Francis nursed his head, “What about them? They’re getting away! We could chase them…”
The others glared at him and he fell silent. As quickly as they could they shuffled down further into the alleyway and came out on the other side, blinking in the sunlight.
“Let’s split up,” Adelaide said, “let’s just go home and never tell anyone this ever happened.”
“Mmf,” said Lydia, her broken jaw flapping horribly, “mmf, mmf mmf. Mmf mmf mmf mmf?”
“She wants to know when we should next meet up,” Lee said, reading her thoughts. She nodded at him gratefully.
There was no response. Adelaide wasn’t listening to them. She was walking away, head down, arms folded. Her cricket bat, clutched listlessly in one hand, dragged behind her. They watched her go.
“Good riddance,” Emma muttered.
“How can you say that?” Francis turned on her instantly, “She was trying to help us! She was trying to be our friend!”
“I don’t need any more friends,” Emma flung her hands wide, “I have hundreds of friends.”
“Any of them real?” Francis snapped.
Emma turned and stalked off without a word, her face set and angry. Francis looked away, seething with pent up rage. Lydia said something incomprehensible.
“She wants to know whether one of us can walk her home,” Lee translated, “she needs someone to explain to her parents why her jaw is broken.”
“You do it,” Francis replied sullenly, “you’re the one who’s good at knowing what people want to hear.”
Lee gestured to Lydia and they walked off together with her leading the way. Francis didn’t bother to watch them go. His head ached and he could already feel a bruise forming where he’d hit the ground. He hoped he didn’t look too rough. Lee appeared to be developing a black eye. Francis didn’t know how the hell he was going to explain it to his parents.
He set off home, trudging wearily. He’d had high hopes, he really had. Adelaide had been so full of energy, so full of life and it had been infectious. Now she was gone and he felt… drained. Drained and hurting all over. Angry too. Really angry. But then a little bit of Francis always felt angry.
Meanwhile Coal and Vesper moved quickly and quietly away from the alley, sticking to the shadows. Coal was studying the brooch from his pocket, grinning to himself.
“You know,” he glanced up at Vesper in front of him, “I reckon this could fetch twice what that guy was offering us off the black market.”
There was no reply.
“You alright Vesper?”
Another pause, then:
“Yeah,” she said, “fine…”
“You think we were a bit tough on those kids? I reckon they deserved it,” Coal stuffed the brooch away, “thinking they could take us. Ha!”
“Nah,” Vesper shook her head, “it’s just… ever think we’re on the wrong side?”
Coal spread his arms.
“All the time baby. But we’re on the side that pays the best, remember?”
She nodded and her wicked smile flashed across her face.
“Sure we are,” she said, “by the way, if you ever call me baby again I’m going to knock your teeth out.”
“That’s more like the Vesper I know.”