Emma bent went down on her knees and lifted up Anna by the shoulders, cradling her head between her knees. She stroked her hair wistfully for a few seconds before looking down at the huge, bloodstained wings sprouting from her back.
“How the hell did this happen?” She looked up at Adelaide, her eyes filled with tears.
“I’m not sure,” Adelaide frowned, “Amadeus was experimenting on her I think.”
“Well…” Emma struggled for words, “I’m going to experiment on his face!”
She saw Adelaide’s expression.
“I’m grief stricken and filled with wrath,” Emma shrugged, “it’s not exactly easy to think up good lines. She’ll live, right?”
“She’s just unconscious,” Adelaide nodded, “look I need to get going. Do you want to have her here or should I carry her on to team three?”
“Here’s going to get pretty explosive,” Emma replied, “get her as far from this place as possible.”
Adelaide nodded and gently lifted up Anna by the arms before dragging her quickly away. She’d wrapped a bit of cloth Emma had found around the Source Cage and tied it around her waist. Sounds of heavy breathing still drifted up from it.
Emma watched them go.
“I wanted to shield you from this,” she whispered, keeping her eyes on Anna’s receding face, tranquil in unconsciousness, “but look what I did to you. You’re cursed, like me… and you can’t even hide it.”
Getting to her feet she walked over to where Lydia and Rachel were waiting for her.
“Okay,” she said, “Amadeus is going to be here any minute now. We ready for him? Ours is the team that’s going to do the biggest damage. We need to do more than just slow him down: we’re here to weaken him severely.”
“How do we do that?” Lydia said nervously.
“We’re in a health and beauty store for a reason,” Emma grinned, “and it’s neither healthy nor particularly beautiful. Alright, here’s the plan.”
She talked, they listened. When she had finished, Lydia looked even more nervous and Rachel looked… well she remained completely unreadable. Emma didn’t give them a chance to complain.
“Let’s do this,” she said.
A few minutes later Amadeus stalked into the health and beauty shop. He looked around him suspiciously as he moved down the main aisle. In the centre of it stood Emma, waiting for him. He stopped a few metres away from her. Around her feet was a pile of deodorant cans. The air was filled with the smell of the stuff.
“An interesting gambit,” Amadeus said, hands on his hips, “I presume that if I take a step closer you will ignite and the following conflagration – triggered by the solvents you’ve sprayed in the air – will cause me considerable harm, yes?”
“Yeah,” Emma replied coldly, “that’s it.”
“And yet you don’t have the Source,” Amadeus shrugged, “it turns out Price has more guts and brains than I thought he did. Given I therefore have no reason to stay here I might as well leave. Your gambit is meaningless if the stakes aren’t high.”
“But what if we raise them,” Rachel said from behind him. She stepped into the aisle, blocking his path, “I am sorry Amadeus, but I must oppose you. Your choice is simple. Come this way and face me, or head the other and face Emma.”
“A simple choice,” Amadeus said, “given I know you won’t attack me. You couldn’t hurt a person, Rachel.”
“Do you want to make that gamble?” Rachel put her head to one side.
Amadeus looked from her to Emma, then back to her again. Then he smiled.
“All this presumes of course that either of you is at all capable of defeating me,” he said, “which I doubt. Ultimately then it’s a simple choice of which of the two of you I think is the most pathetic.”
“Which in turn presumes that this whole ‘gambit’ thing isn’t just yet another protracted distraction,” Emma shrugged, “really, you overthink everything, don’t you? You think that everything in life that you don’t like is just a problem that can be solved. Actually, you remind me of my girlfriend. Of course we’re both going to attack you, we’d be stupid not to. All this needless talking not only puts a greater and greater distance between you and Adelaide. It also gives us time to prepare our trap.”
Amadeus smirked. Then he started to laugh.
“You mean your lizard friend crawling on top of the aisles ready to jump down on me?” He said. “Not much of a trap.”
Lydia, who had been trying to move across the top of the aisle as stealthily as she possibly could, threw caution to the wind and jumped. She fell right into Amadeus’ fist, which he swung up to meet her. She wrapped herself around his arm, fingers hooking into his shoulder, ignoring the pain that spiked in her chest. She would heal, she always did. For a glorious moment she gave in to the lizard instincts hammering through her brain. Scuttling down Amadeus’ arm she unhinged her jaw and lunged, grabbing his head in her mouth.
With a muffled cry of rage Amadeus began to struggle, trying to wrench Lydia from off his head. She gripped on as tightly as she could, eyes clamped shut. For some entirely inexplicable reason an image of Alexis kept on flashing in front of her eyes. Finally she admitted to herself that he was adorable, and resolved to ask him out if she survived this. Largely, she tried not to think about the guy whose head was in her mouth.
Stepping up behind Amadeus, Rachel grabbed his shoulders and held him tightly. He thrashed against her and she could feel how strong he had become. She had liked him, once. When he had visited her in her cell and calmly explained how he wanted all super-humans to be free, she had thought him noble. Now he had become something completely different.
Stepping slowly through her pile of deodorant cans Emma walked over to Amadeus. She reached up and tapped Lydia on the back and the lizard pulled herself off Amadeus’ head and fell to the floor, scuttling away on all fours. With a howl of rage Amadeus lunged at Emma, but he could not break Rachel’s grip. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure Lydia was out of the way, Emma pressed her hands to Amadeus’ chest.
“Thing about problems,” she said, “is they’re stationary. Us, we’re humans. We fight back.”
Her hands lit up and suddenly the air was filled with fire.