An insistent ringing noise sounded impatiently somewhere off to the left of Jalus's head. He threw two pillows and a slipper at the irritant before belatedly realizing it wasn't his alarm clock. Cracking an eye open he managed to confirm that it was indeed four in the morning - much too early for the dratted alarm - and the ringing noise was his phone, not the clock.
With a few choice curses he scooted across his bed - enormous and luxurious, he'd paid a small fortune for the thing and it was worth every penny - and grabbed at the irritating noisemaker. Pulling it to the general vicinity of his ear, he managed a bleary, "Whad'ya want?"
"Good morning, Empyrean," a neutral voice greeted, though he could hear the undercurrent of amusement beneath Fate's placid voice. "I thought you might want a bit of warning that your favorite person is going to pull one of her escapades in... let's see... about forty-five minutes."
Jalus groaned and sat up, cursing fluently and profusely, causing Fate to laugh into the telephone. "Damn it! Why can't that woman confine her villainy to the daylight hours?"
"Perhaps making you get out of your nice warm bed to stop her is part of the appeal," Fate suggested dryly.
Jalus glared at the phone. "I wasn't asking you."
Fate laughed. "I'll leave you to your grooming. If I Saw right, she should be hitting the waterfront sectors... I think I saw a bridge of some sort?"
With a heavy sigh, Jalus rolled out of bed and landed heavily on his feet. "Probably the Mason Street Bridge. She seems to like that one. This'll make the third time this month..."
Chuckling quietly, Fate wished him good luck and hung up. Jalus stared blankly at the phone for a long moment before grimacing and replacing it in its cradle. Granted, it was very useful having the precog watching out for trouble spots, but sometimes he really wished she'd let him sleep in.
Oh well. This was his city to protect, and he'd protect it. Over and over again in some cases. Sometimes Jalus swore that the Shadow Princess's only joy in life was making him miserable. Why else would she cause havoc about the city for absolutely no personal gain that he could see?
Morgan checked her watch, smirking to note that Empyrean was, as expected, six minutes late. That was better than last week's time, however. He'd been nearly fifteen minutes late then. He was improving, however slightly.
Bemusedly she noted that his improvement in promptness showed in his not-quite-perfectly-arrayed hair, slightly-less-than-wrinkle-free costume, and not-so-shiny boots. The view was half the fun of making him get up at oh-god-awful in the morning. The great Empyrean, glorious shining hero of the city, was never seen with a single sun-blond hair out of place.
Except when Morgan woke him up in the middle of the night.
"Don't you have anything better to do?" he asked, gliding down from the sky on those glorious white feathered wings of his and alighting in front of her. "It's not even five in the morning!"
Morgan smiled behind her black veil, gesturing. "But the moonlight is so beautiful; you should get out more and appreciate it."
Empyrean scowled at her, his blue eyes dark in the pre-dawn twilight. "I've seen it five times this month alone, thanks to you. Why can't you behave like any normal villain, Princess?"
Morgan rolled her eyes and resisted the urge to snort disdainfully. "I told you, my name is Despair. And we villains don't have rules that must be followed. Being predictable is what gets lesser villains caught."
"And what's to stop me from catching you right now?" Empyrean asked, raising a golden brow.
A small, subtle smile flickered across Morgan's lips, though she knew he wouldn't be able to make out the expression through her translucent veil. "You can try, but then who will stop the bridge from exploding?" she asked.
Empyrean groaned. "Again? What is it with you and that bridge?!" He frowned a moment, his eyes going distant, and she knew he was calling in his birds to find and disarm her toys. He was very predictable.
"Better hurry," she suggested. "You have..." She checked her watch again. "Ten minutes."
"Aren't you going to tell me how many there are?" he asked.
She laughed. "Now where's the fun in that?" she asked, withdrawing a small timer from within a deep pocket. "Of course, you could just take the master timer from me and disable them all..." Morgan ducked and rolled underneath his lunge, coming back up on her feet and smirking. "That is, if you can take it from me..."
With a snarl that would have been far more impressive if it hadn't been broken by a yawn halfway through, Empyrean snapped out his whip at her and the fight began in earnest. It was the sixth such fight they'd had this month alone, and the thirty-seventh since she'd first donned her ebony costume and gone out to make the night her own.
Her fellow villains couldn't figure out why she didn't rob jewelry stores or break into banks or threaten the mayor into signing over the city. They didn't understand that the inevitable fight with Empyrean was worth far more than money or jewels. Especially when her little knives reduced his pretty costume to ribbons, exposing all that sleek muscle.
Oh yes, the fight was its own reward, regardless of who won.
Not that she'd ever lost, mind you. She wasn't a villain for nothing - villains had free reign to cheat, something she made the most of regularly. And would today, whenever Empyrean came a little too close to defeating or unmasking her. She'd rather die than ever let him know that his arch-enemy Despair (given the unfortunate nickname of the Shadow Princess due to her shadow-manipulating powers) was also Morgan Winters, the underpaid little peon who worked in the mail room of his private company.
Jalus resisted the urge to curl into a little ball of whimpering pain only by sheer force of willpower; managing not to snarl at the clueless bystanders who felt the need to repeatedly ask if he was okay was just Not Happening. Not after the Shadow Princess's parting shot before she'd escaped again had been a meticulously aimed knee to his groin.
Blast it! It wasn't fair that heroes had to play by the rules and villains didn't. Especially when said villains, or in this case villainesses, were so rude as to bruise one of a man's most prized essentials. Stupid Princess.
At least she hadn't managed to destroy anything this time - aside from his dignity. His feathered friends had located and removed all her explosives while he'd been fighting, and the bridge was once again safe. Until the next time she took it into her twisted little brain to ruin his morning by threatening to blow some other major city feature to little bits.
Damn the woman! None of his other enemies gave him nearly this much trouble. Most of them were safely behind bars - until the next prison break anyway - and were usually fairly easy to round up anyway.
Not so the Shadow Princess. She didn't rob banks, jewelry stores, art museums, or any of the standard set. She didn't demand power, glory, or acres of land. She just showed up, made him miserable, and left. Repeatedly. And she had the gall to neatly avoid capture every single time.
It had gotten to the point where the general public was beginning to refer to her as his arch enemy. How humiliating was it that he, Empyrean, superhero, one of the thirteen Council members who oversaw the entire League of Heroes, absolutely could not manage to capture one lone obnoxious female?
It was completely and utterly degrading. Almost as degrading as having to sit on a park bench and be gawked at while the nerve endings in his crotch gradually dulled the screaming pain enough for him to fly home.
Stupid Shadow Princess. Next time, he'd defeat her. Whatever it took.