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Riot slammed into the pavement.
Somehow, the two inches of freezing water pooling on the asphalt did little to cushion his impact with the crushed segment of blacktop. With a breathless gasp, he slid across the road with a hiss of water and the thin screech of metal. He rolled to a halt and lay there, stunned by the savage cold of the pool and the stinging, furious rain.
With a groan, Riot propped himself up onto an elbow, his body screaming in protest. Ignoring the trickle of water he could feel seeping through his undershirt, he cast his attention skyward.
Far above him, a brilliant halo of light was set against the darkest of rainclouds, like a bright star on a black night.
She was falling.
With a sudden rush of adrenaline and a gasp of pain, Riot kicked himself to his feet and started to run. Instantly, the metal cantilever on the sole of his right boot unlocked, and the assembly sprung apart, kicking him forward with far more force than a normal runner. On his next stride, though, the device in his other boot failed to retract, and he was again hurled to the ground.
Slowly, he uncurled from his hunched position, tiny drops of blood from his torn palms swirling in the water like pink ribbons, and inspected the contraption. He had to grit his teeth and squint against the rain, at this angle.
The thin metal strip, usually bent delicately across the tension bar, was twisted hideously out of shape, worthless. With a snarl, he slapped the quick-release plate between his heel and the ground, and the device broke free from his boot with a clang. Desperately, he pushed himself to his feet again, and continued running on his newly-sprained leg, bearing the pain as best he could.
Cyclone found what he was looking for in the center of a collapsed building. He remembered it as a parking garage, but now it resembled little more than a half-buried rectangle of flooded concrete. He began his descent quickly, but slowed as quietly as he could, smothering the roar of the storm around him in his own concern.
He alighted smoothly upon a pile of rubble, with all the stealth he could manage. His powers weren't of the most subtle variety. They released him with a small whoosh as the wind dissipated, his weight returning when his boots contacted the worn concrete.
His position was partially obscured by a leaning support column, half-sunken into the mud and cloaking him in shadow. Delicately, wary of ambush, Cyclone peered out into the gloom of the parking garage.
The center had been completely crushed, leaving only a crater around which the complex had crumbled. In the downpour, the depression had filled with water, creating a lake almost thirty feet across, with the occasional bit of rebar or partition reaching from the water. Above the lake, the ceiling had caved in, as well, allowing light to pour through the opening along with the precipitation.
It formed a lone shaft of light and rain in an otherwise still, darkened ruin.
The lake's surface was perfectly calm, marred only by the unceasing patter of water let in by the gap. In the center, another crumbled support column barely rose above the lake, a tiny island barely the size of a mattress, floating in an urban sea.
On the island, two figures huddled. One, a young girl dressed in purest white and silver, tarnished with dirt and mud. The other was cloaked in black, and cradled her in his arms as he crouched beside her. Despite himself, Cyclone felt he was intruding on something private, even as he felt a rush of fury toward the stranger as he recognized the girl.
Cyclone stepped from behind the pillar and spoke, his powers masking his voice with the moaning rasp of wind. It was usually enough to intimidate all but the most seasoned criminals.
"Step away from Radiance and cross your hands behind your head."
The stranger looked up, revealing a striking purple mask across his visage, but he turned his attention down again, gazing at his charge. Cyclone readied himself to leap across the lake, gathering the air around himself with a growl.
After a moment, however, the young man simply brushed an argent strand of hair from Radiance's face and set her down gently, so she was lying peacefully against the slightly slanted column. He stood carefully, so as not to disturb her from their rather precarious position on the tiny island.
"Is she injured?" Cyclone demanded, not changing from his aggressive posture.
"She was unconcious when I got here. Can't see any signs of injury, though." The young man made no effort to disguise his voice.
"Your name was..." something about the young man was familiar, and Cyclone knew he'd encountered him before, but couldn't quite recall the specifics.
"Riot, at your service," the young villain said with a theatrical bow. "We met last month at the Barnum Theatrical Society robbery."
Cyclone remembered their brief skirmish at the convention center; the youth had used several stun grenades to grand effect against the panicked attendees of the conference. He'd created a distraction for another villain to steal the stage, quite literally.
"And you honestly think I'm just going to let you escape, now?" The hero chuckled, causing Riot to frown.
"Uh... yeah, I do, actually. In case you haven't noticed, your team lost this round. They're regrouping in the Downtown, unavaliable for you as reinforcements. And you can't fight me and protect her at the same time." The young villain casually waved his hand at the unconcious heroine at his feet, giving Cyclone time to think.
As much as the older hero hated to admit it, as long as Radiance was so defenseless, Riot had the advantage. A sudden fear gripped him as Cyclone realized the situation he was in. A fear he'd only felt a handful of times during his rather eventful career as a superhero in Beryl City. He didn't know how long this villain had been alone with an incapacitated Radiance. For all he knew, Riot could have subdued her before he arrived, then staged the scene to his benefit.
"I don't have a choice. If you've looked under her mask, not only have you commited a serious crime, but you pose an enormous risk to one of this city's foremost defenders."
Riot raised his hands, suddenly apprehensive.
"But I didn't! I was only ducking in here to avoid the fighting when she came down through the ceiling!"
That was what had brought the building down, then. It did make sense, given that she was lying in the middle of a veritable crater. Riot seemed sincere, but his testimony only added to Cyclone's concern for his younger colleague. He strode forward, the wind carrying him across the water in a rumble of moving air.
Riot retreated immediately, a device in his right heel awkwardly springing open and propelling him back. It looked like one of the metal prosthetics disabled runners used, spring-loaded and modified for use as a locomotive tool.
Cyclone ignored him, sweeping down to crouch protectively over Radiance. She looked unhurt, though was probably out cold from her impact with the building. The stress her powers were forced to bear was probably more to blame than the fall itself. The hero glanced over her for any obvious injuries, then looked back up at Riot.
The young villain was standing warily by the edge of the crater, watching Cyclone as if waiting for his ruling.
"Go," the hero said. "You may be a lesser criminal, but should we cross paths again, harbor no illusions about my allegiences. You will not evade capture a second time."
Without a response, the young man turned and dashed off into the darkness, his footsteps' splashing echoing through the ruin. Cyclone listened until he was certain Riot had fled, the last of the echoes fading away into the distant police sirens and consant drizzle of the heavy rain.
Feeling suddenly old, wet, and tired, the hero sighed, turning his attention to his companion. As he moved to roll her over, his eye was drawn to the back of her head, to the silver kevlar of her mask. Radiance always tied the fabric with a decorative flower knot, identical to her role model Singularity. But the flower knot was absent, the mask instead tied with a hasty overhand that left no question in Cyclone's mind.
Riot had seen her face.
Cyclone closed his eyes, feeling an overwhelming dread flow through his body as he reached for his phone. The day's fighting had been a complete defeat, a decisive victory for the villains. But this went beyond the usual back-and-forth of bank robberies and ransom threats. Such was normal fare in Beryl City, after all.
No, this was a harbinger of many dark days ahead.
This... This was disaster.
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