Imp 6: A Very Imp-ortant Date part 1

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Arena 91, Thursday afternoon, Oct 18th, 2007

I crouched down on the edge of the rooftop, looking down at the ground several stories below me. From this high up, the people all looked like ants. Well, they actually were ANTS, robots that were designed to simulate people in the arena.

While I scanned the streets for my opponent, I quietly sang, “Where oh where has my little cat gone, where oh where can she be…?”

Then I spotted my opponent and began to grin. Tabby Cat was dressed in her professional costume, which consisted of a sexy black outfit, which was lined with a bit of fur trim. She was in great shape, especially for being the mother of a teenager. However, that kind of thing could be expected of an exemplar.

For a moment, I let myself bask in the smugness of having found my opponent before she could find me. After all, she might be sneaky, but I was sneakier. However, I had to remind myself not to get cocky. Getting overconfident against someone like Tabby Cat, who was an active hero and a member of S.T.A.R. League, was a good way to lose.

The smart move would be to carefully follow Tabby Cat, and then when the perfect opportunity arose, ambush her. But then again, that might be the smart strategy, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun as what I had in mind.

With that, I dropped my chameleon field and stood up, calling out, “Here kitty kitty…”

Tabby Cat looked up at me, though her mouth immediately dropped open. I grinned at that, as I’d obviously stunned her with my magnificence. At the moment, I was currently wearing a variation of my usual costume, except that it was bright red. I had laser pointers strapped to each of my wrists, and I wore a utility belt, which had catnip mousies and a ball of yarn hanging from it.

“It is I,” I called out dramatically, “Your archenemy…the Red Dot. You will never catch me…”

Tabby Cat blinked at that and then closed her mouth. Then she stood there with her hands on her hips. “Really Imp?” she called out. “Really?”

At this point, I could have changed tactics and behaved like a mature professional…but why start now? Instead, I blew Tabby Cat a raspberry, then called out, “Eat exploding mousey…”

I threw one of the catnip mice at Tabby Cat, who dove to the side in order to avoid an explosion. Of course, it was just an ordinary mouse, of the non-exploding variety, but this gave me a great distraction to run and vanish.

As soon as Tabby Cat realized that she’d been had, she called out, “I’m coming for you Imp.”

“That’s Red Dot,” I called back with a laugh.

Once I was far enough away, I pulled out the laser pointers and beamed the red dots to the ground in front of her, wondering if she’d give into her feline instincts and chase them. Much to my disappointment, she didn’t. Nor was she distracted by the catnip mice I tossed at her.

“Here kitty kitty,” I taunted the hero, grinning maniacally as I did. Tabby Cat and I had talked about sparring for a couple weeks, and now we were finally doing it, and I was having a blast. “Remember, Bob Barker says to spay and neuter your pets…”

Just then, I suddenly realized that while I’d been taunting my opponent, she’d used one of my own tricks, to take advantage of the distraction and vanish. I looked around, not seeing any sign of the hero, though I knew she was close. In fact, I was pretty sure that she was carefully sneaking up on me. And if I was going to ambush me, where would I come from?”

“My Imp senses are tingling,” I said.

There was a sudden movement from behind me, but I was expecting this and dove to the side, while simultaneously focusing my PK aura to create a shield along my back, right where a pair of claws struck. Between that and my momentum, I slipped out of Tabby Cat’s reach, then leapt up to a wall, where I began to quickly climb.

“Never underestimate the power of the Imp Force,” I called out, wagging my tail at Tabby Cat.

“So, you want to play cat and mouse,” Tabby Cat called back with a grin. “I’m all for that. Remember who usually wins in those games…”

I laughed at that, then blew her another raspberry. “If Saturday morning cartoons have taught me anything, it’s that the mouse does.” Then with an grin, I exclaimed, “Arriba! Arriba! Andale! Andale!,” and took off even faster.

Tabby Cat chased after me, scrambling up a fire escape at a surprising speed. She was faster, more maneuverable, and sharper than most of the heroes I played this game with. She was able to keep pace with me, and I was pretty sure that in a straight out fight, she’d be able to beat me. Fortunately for me, I preferred to avoid straight out fights whenever possible, which meant that she had to keep working to keep up.

“You know, you can’t avoid me forever,” Tabby Cat called out to me. “I’ve been in the game for a long time, and I’m not about to let you escape me, little mouse…”

I just grinned at that. Tabby Cat was mistaken, because this wasn’t a game of cat and mouse. This was a game of Cat and Imp, and that was an entirely different game, one which I excelled at playing.

Somehow, Tabby Cat managed to slip out of my sight again, which annoyed me, because that was my usual trick. However, it didn’t take long before she tried to pounce on me again, but I saw her coming and not only leapt out of her way, but responded by throwing a handful of catnip right into her face.

“What the hell was that?” Tabby Cat demanded, coughing and sneezing.

“Bad old puddy tat,” I teased her, using my best Tweety Bird impression.

“If you call my Sylvester,” Tabby Cat responded, “I will personally pluck every feather from your body.”

I burst out laughing at that, then gave her a Sylvester impression. “Thuffering thuccotash…”

For a moment, the two of us just stood there, taking a brief break. Tabby Cat shook her head to get some of the catnip out of her hair, then commented, “I think I’m actually starting to get a buzz from this…”

“Just don’t bogart the nip, man,” I responded in my best Chong voice.

Tabby Cat gave me an amused look, right before she leapt right at me with her claws extended. I focused all the energy of my PK aura to the spot she hit, creating a small shield that kept her claws from tearing into me. Then, I slammed her with my palm, shifting much of the energy from my aura into my hand so that I sent her flying back in surprise. Then with a wink and a bow, I threw another catnip mouse at her, bouncing it off her head before I turned and ran.

We continued our game, with Tabby Cat chasing after me, while we took turns trying to slip away so we could ambush each other. However, by this time, I’d already shifted the odds a little in my favor.

My opponent had certain catlike abilities, and I was pretty sure that this included enhanced senses, though I wasn’t positive. Enhanced senses were always a pain for me to deal with, because one of my best tricks involved making myself vanish. That didn’t work quite as well when my opponents could still smell me. That was why I’d thrown the catnip in Tabby Cat’s face. I hadn’t done it just to tease her, though admittedly, that was a great benefit. The main reason was that I was trying to overwhelm her sense of smell, making it more difficult for her to track me that way. And from how well I was able to pull my vanishing trick after this, that little trick seemed to have worked. Either that, or she never had an enhanced sense of smell to begin with.

Our game continued for a little longer, with neither of us getting a solid advantage. When the buzzer went off, announcing that we’d run out of time, Tabby Cat and I stopped and called it a tie.

“Now that was fun,” I told Tabby as we left the arena.

Tabby nodded, then admitted, “I don’t know whether to be frustrated or entertained.”

“From my experience,” Elizabeth Carson pointed out wryly, making me nearly jump in surprise since I hadn’t realized that she’d come to watch, “that’s the usual reaction from dealing with the Imp.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” I commented.

I gave Carson a curious look, wondering how long she’d been here watching our match. Carson and I had an odd relationship, because not only was she my current boss, she was also a former dance partner. Along with being the headmistress of Whateley, she happened to be Lady Astarte, a superhero whom I’d had the misfortune of running into during one of my jobs, a few years ago.

Carson leaned over to Tabby, and in a conspiratorial tone that I was obviously meant to hear, she admitted, “After the first time I ran into the Imp, in a real world situation similar to this, I was tempted to chase her down and strangle her…and I might have…if I could have stopped laughing long enough to do it.”

“So, my secret plan worked,” I commented.

From the way I remembered our encounter, Carson had NOT been laughing at the time. In fact, she’d seemed pretty offended by the way I kept mocking her, and calling her Ass Tart. Of course, now that she was my boss, it was probably better that I didn’t remind her of that.

“Did you need something?” Tabby asked Carson, giving her a curious look.

Carson just shook her head. “Actually, a meeting fell through, and since I suddenly had a hole in my schedule, I thought that I’d take advantage of this extra time to come and watch your sparring match. It was…interesting.”

“It wouldn’t do to earn a reputation for being boring,” I pointed out.

“I really don’t think that is ever likely to happen,” Carson said with a wry smile. “You are anything but boring.”

“Thank you,” I beamed cheerfully.

While Tabby and I briefly chatted with Carson, I noted that she hadn’t been our only audience. Tabby’s daughter Lily was standing around a short distance away, obviously not comfortable with the idea of interrupting Carson. However, as soon as Carson left, she hurried in our direction.

“And you want my team to go up against HER?” Lily quietly asked her mom, while giving me a wary look.

“It would be educational,” Tabby responded with a smile. “Remember, not all your opponents will use the same tactics, and if nothing else, Imp will help you learn how to deal with the unexpected.”

“Wondercute does that well enough.” Lily gave me another wary look, then sniffed. “What’s that smell?”

“Catnip,” Tabby admitted with a shake of her head.

Seeing an opportunity, I put an arm around Tabby’s shoulder and told Lily, “Your mother has been too embarrassed to admit that she has a catnip problem. But don’t worry,” I winked at Tabby, “there are some good twelve step programs to help you with that…”

Lily snickered at that while Tabby gave me a wry look. “I do not have a catnip program…”

“Admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards solving it,” I teased her. Lily began laughing harder at that.

With that, I left Tabby to talk with her daughter, while I went to the locker room to shower and get changed. I made sure that no one else was around before undressing. After all, it wouldn’t do to risk accidentally stunning some poor girl with my undressed magnificence.

Though I’d never admit it to anyone else, I was actually a little self-conscious about my body. I had a great body, which was lithe and athletic, with great muscle tone and just enough curves to be appealing. However, I also had a black devil tail growing out of my lower spine, and small black scales that covered my shoulders, as well as a few other places. There was a reason that I never wore long sleeves or revealing outfits.

I’d just finished showering, and was starting to get dressed again, when Tabby came into the locker room. She caught sight of me, with nothing but a towel on, but didn’t say anything about my GSD, much to my relief. I actually liked the woman, even if she was a hero, and wouldn’t have been happy if I’d been forced to put her on my list of people to seriously mess with.

Tabby began taking off her costume, undressing right in front of me, as though she had nothing to be modest about. Then again, she was an exemplar, and didn’t have anything to be modest about.

“Are you still going out of town this weekend?” Tabby asked me.

“Yes,” I responded with a faint smile. “I have some business to take care of back home.”

“Anything I should know about?” Tabby asked me with a raised eyebrow.

I just laughed at that. “If I was planning on pulling a job this weekend, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

“Spoilsport,” Tabby responded with a look of amusement. Then, as she went into the shower, she called out, “Sometime, we’re going to have to do a real match. A serious one.”

“Who says I wasn’t being serious?” I asked, casually tossing a catnip mouse in her direction.

Tabby picked up the mouse, gave me a wry look and said, “Have fun on your trip, and don’t do anything that will make me have to come after you.” And with that, she continued into the shower, with the mouse in hand.

“But where’s the fun in that?” I responded with a grin.

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The Imp Lair, Manhattan NY, Friday early evening, Oct 19th, 2007

As soon as classes had ended for the day, I’d left campus, and rushed to the airport as fast as I could. I had some important business to take care of, back home in Manhattan, and I couldn’t afford to be late. Fortunately, the plane made good time, and I arrived early enough that I actually had time to go home and clean up.

Now, here I was, back in the high rise condo that I referred to as the Imp Lair…AKA…home. It was good to be home, and not just in my tastefully decorated condo. After spending so much time lately in New Hampshire, it was nice to be back in a real city, with buildings that were of a proper height, and where I could bask in the familiar metropolitan sounds.

“Too bad I don’t have time for a good run,” I mused, considering how relaxing it would be to leap from one rooftop to the next, or to simply climb one of the towering glass walls. “But work comes first…”

I’d already changed into my working clothes, but this wasn’t the black and red catsuit that I wore as a thief, or even the slacks and blouse I wore as a teacher, though my current outfit was much closer to the latter than the former. Tonight, I wasn’t going to work as the fabulous Imp. I was going to work as Candice Kade, the artist.

“Not bad,” I mused as I looked myself over. “But I am missing one last touch…”

A moment later, I pulled out my most prized possession, a magic amulet which contained a masking charm on it. About two years ago, I’d done a job for a finger wiggler, in exchange for this amulet. As soon as I put it on and activated the magic, I was covered with an illusion, which hid my devilish good looks and unique features, and made me look like a normal person.

“Now to get into character,” I mused.

Even though Candice Kade was the name on my birth certificate, and the one that I’d used for the first fifteen years of my life, I no longer thought of myself as Candice. I was the Imp…or even Christine…but not Candice. Candice was just a fake identity, based on who I might have been, if things had been just a little different. However, it was a very useful identity, since I wouldn’t have been able to have my art career without it. For some reason, people don’t take art forgers and professional thieves very seriously as legitimate artists.

Once I was ready, I left the Imp Lair and made my way to the art gallery that was showing some of my pieces tonight, along with those of some other artists. This was a relatively new gallery, not one of the ones that I usually used. But on the plus side, it was also one that I’d never robbed either, which meant that I didn’t have to feel like a hypocrite for showing my own pieces there.

When I arrived, the first thing I did was greet Shelly Hamlin, the woman who ran this particular gallery, and who was responsible for hosting the current show. Shelly was in her early forties, with pale blonde hair that was tied back into an intricate braid. And when she saw me, she smiled and greeted me, “Candice… I’m so glad you were able to make it…”

“Me too,” I responded with a smile of my own. “It was a close thing though…”

“I’m just glad that you let us show your new paintings,” she told me. “I’ve been a fan of yours, ever since I saw A Glorious Shadow on display…”

“It was one of my favorite to paint,” I admitted, feeling pleased by the compliment. My tail swished back and forth, unseen by anyone, thanks to my magic necklace. “And recently, I’ve licensed it for a few products, which should get me a little more exposure.”

Shelly nodded at that. “I think that if you continue your fine work, than before long, you’ll be as well-known as Thomas Kinkade or Bev Doolittle.”

I laughed at that. “Doubtful, but I appreciate your confidence in me. Mostly, I’m just delighted to share my work with a wider audience.”

After talking with Shelly for another minute, I moved on and began to look at the artwork on display. Most of the pieces were quite nice, and I had to admire Shelly’s eye when it came to selecting which talent to display. Each of us seemed to have different strengths and weaknesses, which provided quite a nice contrast in displays.

I stopped in front of a painting by a new artist named Ian Duboise. He had a few nice pieces, but I wasn’t especially impressed. While he demonstrated a strong grasp of certain techniques, his works seemed a little…lacking in inspiration.

Another woman stood a short distance away, looking over the pieces, and seeming just a little more impressed than I was. She saw me looking and commented, “Duboise has a very nice touch with his brush strokes. It reminds me a little of Edgar Valentine.”

“True,” I said, nodding agreement. “But there is a reason for that.” I smiled faintly as I explained, “Valentine was Duboise’s mentor. Duboise learned Valentine’s techniques pretty well, but he’s only just starting to develop his own style… He’s got potential, but I don’t think he’s really there yet. I say, give him a couple more years to mature as an artist, and to really find his own stride, and he may become something special.”

“Really?” the woman asked, giving me a look of surprise. Then, she seemed to get just a little offended at my comments. “Well, I suppose it’s easy to pick apart someone else’s work when you don’t paint yourself…”

With a laugh, I pointed out, “Actually, I’m one of the other artists from the show.” I gestured in the direction where my paintings were hung. “I’m Candice Kade.”

That seemed to impress the woman, who suddenly began to gush about how much she liked my work. We talked for a few more minutes, then I slipped away to mix and mingle with a few other people.

I talked briefly with a couple of the other artists, and a few collectors who were looking to pick up new pieces. It was polite chit-chat, though it was still nice to talk to other people who were as interested in art as I was.

And then, I saw him. He was tall, blonde, athletic, and dressed in a nice suit. I took a moment to appreciate the sight of Ryan Chambers, who also happened to be Chickenhawk, the hero I’d been fighting for the better part of a decade.

After years of fighting each other, a couple months ago, something had drastically changed in our relationship. It had taken the kidnapping of Melissa, his daughter and my apprentice, to bring the two of us together. And to my shock and horror, by the time we’d rescued Melissa, I’d actually fallen for him.

Of course, being a woman of vast experience and wisdom, I did the mature and reasonable thing…and ran away from Ryan as fast as I could. However, even going as far as New Hampshire hadn’t been enough to get away from him, and two weeks ago, we’d run into each other again. After a nice dinner, and an even nicer conversation, we’d ended it with a kiss.

Last week, Ryan and I had met up again in Boston, where we’d had another nice dinner together, and even more conversation. It had been quite nice, talking about our shared interest in art, as well as talking about some of our previous encounters in costume. We’d enjoyed it so much, that we’d even scheduled another date for tomorrow night.

When I saw Ryan, I had the urge to rush up and give him a kiss, but then I reminded myself that, at the moment, I wasn’t the Imp, or even Christine. I was Candice. And Ryan didn’t know that Candice and the Imp were the same woman.

“Candice,” Ryan greeted me with a broad smile. “I’m glad to see you again.”

“It’s nice seeing you again too,” I responded, remembering that the last time I’d run into Ryan as Candice, had been back in June. That was the same night that I’d discovered that Ryan and Chickenhawk were the same person, and that Carson had come to my Imp Lair and offered me a job. “It’s been a long time.”

“I was just looking at your new pieces,” Ryan told me. “And they’re fantastic.”

“Thank you,” I responded, delighted by the compliment.

However, Ryan wasn’t finished. “That Shadowed Soul piece was especially good. I think it may be one of the best I’ve seen of yours.”

I beamed even more proudly at that, swishing my tail back and forth. I’d actually painted that piece right after Melissa had agreed to officially become my apprentice. However, I couldn’t exactly tell Ryan that his daughter was my inspiration.

“I was feeling especially inspired at the time,” I told him.

“And Regret,” he started, though he paused for a moment. “Regret was a particularly poignant piece. I suspect that this one was especially personal.”

“You…have no idea,” I admitted, forcing a smile, though I really wanted to wince.

Regret was a piece that I’d painted, right after I learned that Barney was now a teacher at Whateley. It was fueled by all the pain and regret over what I’d lost.

There was a moment of awkward silence, before Ryan said, “Thank you for that birthday present you gave Melissa. It was beautiful, and you have no idea how much she loves it.”

“I’m glad she appreciates it,” I told him honestly. Of course, she’d told me how much she loved that painting on several occasions.

Ryan and I talked for a few more minutes, which were pleasant yet awkward at the same time. I knew that he was Chickenhawk, but he didn’t know I knew. And of course, he had no idea that under this drab illusion, I was really the beautiful, talented, and fabulous Imp.

Eventually, Ryan excused himself so he could talk with another artist, while I was left to continue mingling. A couple minutes later, I found myself going back towards Shelly, where I planned to ask her about one of the other artists. However, she was already talking to a middle-aged man, who seemed strangely familiar for some reason. He was of average height, a little stocky, and he had dark hair that was starting to go gray.

“Where do I know him from?” I quietly mused, sure that I did know him from somewhere. Had he been wearing a mask the last time I saw him? If so, what kind?

But then, I got close enough to eavesdrop a little in their conversation, and heard the man ask, “Can you tell me where Candice Kade is? I came to this show specifically for her.”

“I take it that you’re a fan of her work,” Shelly responded.

“Not exactly,” the man said with a serious expression. “I’m… My name is Daniel Kade, and I think she might be my sister.”

“Danny Boy,” I gasped in stunned disbelief, now recognizing the brother whom I hadn’t seen in thirty years. My heart leapt up into my throat at the sight of him, and as I noted how much he now looked like our father. A moment later, I turned and raced for the exit as fast as I could.

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Superbad, NY, Saturday late morning, Oct 20th, 2007

It was too early for serious drinking, yet there I was, sitting at the back table of a local supervillain dive bar, with a drink in front of me.

Normally, at this time on a Saturday morning, I’d be cleaning up my classroom after my open classroom period. I should be shooing Dino out the door with a broom, giving words of advice to Alicia, or some encouragement to Darqueheart. Instead, I was nursing a beer, while considering how strange it was that I now considered Saturday art classes as ‘normal.’

“Danny Boy,” I whispered before taking a long drink from my glass.

The last time I’d seen my older brother, had been thirty years ago. That was before I’d become a professional thief, before I’d become the Imp, and even before I’d run away from home. At the time, I’d just been a scared teenager, still new to her GSD and her powers. Our last meeting was not one that I remembered fondly. In fact, Danny’s last words to me, was one of the reasons I’d run away from home, all those years ago.

Now, after three decades, Danny Boy somehow tracks me down. Well, that shouldn’t have been very difficult, not since I was actually using my original name as an alias for my art career. I should have expected that my past might show up to bite me in my tail if I did that.

“After all this time,” I mused with a sigh. “But why now?”

My life had recently gone through a drastic change, and I was still trying to get my head around that. I’d retired from my previous career and was now a simple art teacher. I had my own art career on the side, and it was taking off and doing quite nicely. And then, there was the strange thing between me and Ryan, which I was still trying to make sense of. Everything in my life had changed, and this seemed to be one more thing. However, I had no idea if it was good or bad…though I strongly suspected the latter.

“I need another drink,” I thought aloud. “Maybe something in the line of a Nuclear Waste…”

Of course, that was the kind of drink that Carl, the bartender at the Black Mask might make for me, not something that I could get at place like Superbad. The Black Mask was the other bar I tended to frequent, and a somewhat higher class establishment at that. However, with the way I was feeling, I’d come here because a dive suited my current mood a little better. Now I was starting to regret that choice.

Just then, a woman came into the bar and paused to stare at me for a moment. She was in her late twenties, with bleached blonde hair, and a number of visible tattoos on her arms. Though she wasn’t in costume, I recognized the Pink Piper. She was a smalltime villainess, who could control rodents, like mice, rats, and squirrels. Considering that we were in New York, where those kinds of animals were plentiful, that could have been a pretty effective power, if she was able to control more than a half dozen of them at the same time.

“Imp,” Piper called out to me in surprise. “I haven’t seen you around in awhile…”

“I’ve been out of town,” I explained, not bothering to mention that I was also retired.

“You’ve been gone for a couple months,” Piper commented, inviting herself to share my table. “It must have been a big job.”

“Pretty big,” I admitted with a smirk. “It’s a full time commitment.”

“Nice,” Piper agreed with a grin. “I just got a nice payday myself. A high-end restaurant just paid me a couple thousand to close down their competition…”

“The health department tends to frown on rats running across the floor,” I commented, knowing Piper’s usual racket.

“Yep,” Piper agreed. “And this pays better than my day job…” She shuddered at that. I wasn’t sure what her day job was, but I knew that she hated it, which was why she’d gone into the supervillain business to begin with.

Piper sat and chatted with me for another minute, then got up and hurried away to find someone else to talk to. As soon as she was gone, someone commented, “I know what kind of job you’ve been doing, Imp.” I looked over and saw Sunder, sitting a couple tables away. He’d been quiet and had been minding his own business, so I hadn’t really noticed him until then.

“Sunder,” I greeted the man. “You still owe me fifty bucks from that last poker game.”

Sunder chuckled at that, then reached for his wallet. He pulled out a couple bills, then came over and set them down on my table, before taking the seat that Piper had just vacated. “I heard that you’re an art teacher now.”

“Now, where in the world would you hear something like that?” I asked him, though the truth was, I already knew.

“My son goes to Whateley,” Sunder answered. “When he found out the new art teacher was a villain, he called me to ask what I knew about you.”

“Render isn’t in any of my classes,” I told Sunder. If he was surprised that I knew who his son was, he didn’t show it. “So don’t bother asking me to fix his grades or anything.”

“I wasn’t going to,” he responded with a snort.

For a moment, I just watched Sunder, noting the resemblance between him and his son. After I’d arrived at Whateley, and first learned about the Bad Seeds, I’d done a little research on them, and on who their parents were. At the time, I thought that it would be useful to know if I’d had any business dealings with their family members, and if any of them might have grudges against me. I’d done similar research on the members of a couple other campus groups as well.

“So,” Sunder asked after several seconds. “Did you really retire, or are you playing some game?”

“Everything is a game,” I pointed out, swishing my tail back and forth. “But in this case, I have indeed retired from the business.”

“Well, good luck with that then,” Sunder told me with a chuckle. He stood up and turned to leave, then paused to give me a curious look. “Oh, I figured that you might want to know, a couple people have been asking around for you.

“Oh?” I asked in surprise. “A couple?”

Sunder shrugged at that. “I don’t have any idea who they are or what they want…other than to find you…but the word is, they’ve been pretty persistent.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” I told Sunder, who gave me a nod before returning to his original table.

I considered Sunder’s words for a minute, wondering who could possibly be looking for me this time. I knew that Danny Boy had been looking for me, but he’d been looking for Candice, not the Imp. As far as I knew, my dear brother had no idea that I was the Imp, or that I’d gone into a less than legal career path. But then again, he might have found out somehow.

Then with a sigh, I stood up and stretched, deciding that there was only one way to find out what Danny Boy wanted, especially after so long. “It looks like I’ll just have to go ask him.”

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Manhattan NY, Saturday early afternoon, Oct 20th, 2007

Danny Boy was staying in a nice hotel. It wasn’t one of those top of the line luxury hotels, where only the wealthy could afford to stay, but it was still nice nonetheless. And it didn’t look like it had changed a bit since I’d pulled a job there about four years ago.

At the moment, I was clinging to the outside wall, peeking into Danny’s suite through a window. I wasn’t playing peeping Imp to get my jollies off or nothing, especially not with my own brother. EWWWW. Instead, I was trying to decide how I should approach him. At the moment, I was thinking of just letting myself into his suite, and singing, ‘Danny Boy.’ That would be appropriate…and amusing. At least to me.

Unfortunately, I’d spent too long making up my mind, because Danny grabbed his jacket and left the room. I scowled in annoyance at the missed opportunity, though of course, I could always wait for him to come back.

“Naw,” I mused to myself. “I don’t think so.”

I quickly scrambled down the wall, keeping my chameleon field up as I did so, just in case someone actually decided to look up. When I reached the bottom floor, I only had to wait another minute before Danny emerged from the hotel.

“Now, where are you heading off to?” I mused. “Are you still looking for me?”

To my surprise, Danny boy didn’t have the valet bring his car around. Instead, he began walking down the sidewalk, so of course, I followed. I kept my distance, remaining completely out of sight. A few minutes later, he went into a restaurant.

“He must be having lunch,” I said.

I watched the front of the restaurant for several minutes, then decided to take a closer look. But instead of sneaking over to peek into the window, I decided to try a different tactic.

After I found a nice out of the way spot, I dropped my chameleon field, opened up the backpack I was wearing, and slipped on the long jacket I had inside. That helped to conceal my old working outfit, and made me look more like a normal civilian.

“Of course,” I commented to myself, “I need to hide my devilish good looks.”

With that, I carefully pulled out my magic amulet. Normally, I’d never bring this with me when I went into a situation like this. The amulet was far too valuable for me to ever risk it being lost or damaged, but at the moment, it was also exactly what I needed.

As soon as I put the amulet on and activated the magic, the illusion covered me and hid my GSD. Instead of the fabulous Imp, anyone who saw me, would see plain and boring Candice Kade instead.

Next, I simply walked over to the restaurant. It looked like a nice place, with expensive food that came in portions that were just too small. And while I enjoyed gourmet food, I was also quite happy with just a well-made pizza.

I found Danny Boy inside, sitting by himself at a small table, looking grim and serious, just like how I remembered him. It amazed me just how much he now looked like our father. The very sight of him brought back memories, though they weren’t all pleasant ones.

Danny and I had never been close. He was nearly five years older than me, and as children, that had been quite a vast difference. However, there had been an even greater gulf between us, due to our drastically different personalities.

While we’d been growing up, Danny had always been serious and well-behaved. He’d always followed the rules, and had been eager to earn the favor of our parents. Because of that, he’d also been quite happy to tattle on me, whenever I did anything I shouldn’t…which admittedly…had been quite often.

There had never been any doubt that Danny had been our parents’ favorite child, since he never did anything to embarrass them in front of their peers, clients, or neighbors, and that was what they care about the most. I, on the other hand, had always been the problem child. I’d been the one who was always looking for something fun and exciting to do, and had always been getting in trouble.

“Some things never change,” I commented with a smirk. That drew my full attention back to my brother. “So why are you here now?”

I wasn’t happy about Danny Boy being here, intruding into my life. He’d come looking for me in my Candice identity, but had probably been expecting my Impish looks. My brother could bridge my two identities, and with just a single wrong word, he could reveal them to the world. With one wrong word from him, I could be exposed, and my entire art career would turn to ash.

“Damn it,” I snapped in annoyance. “Why did you have to show up now?”

Since there was only one way to find out the answer to that, I walked straight up to Danny Boy’s table, and sat down in the seat across from him. He gave me a look of surprise and confusion.

“Hello, Danny Boy,” I said, trying to look calm and relaxed, though I felt anything but. This was just as unnerving as my reunion with Ryan the other week, though in an entirely different way.

“What…?” Danny started, giving me a more intense look. “Who are you?”

“What?” I asked, giving him a look of mock offense. “You don’t recognize your own sister? It’s only been thirty years…”

Danny’s eyes widened at that, and he gasped, “Candice?”

“I prefer to go by Christine now,” I told him with a wry smile, “though I keep Candice just as a professional name.”

Danny stared at me for several more seconds, his mouth opening and closing as he tried to say something but just couldn’t quite get it out. He reminded me of a fish, and at any other time, I would have called him on that.

“You look…different,” Danny finally said.

With a smirk, I answered, “I had work done.”

“I see,” he carefully responded. “You look…normal.”

Instead of responding to that, I said, “I heard you were looking for me.” I gave him a steady look, noting that he was clearly nervous. “Why? The last time we talked, you made it perfectly clear that you never wanted to see me again.”

Danny winced a little at that, though he quickly tried to recover. “I never said that…”

“You called me a hideous freak,” I pointed out in a cold tone, “and said that you wished I’d never been born.” Those were the last words that Danny had ever said to me, and I’d never forgotten them. I narrowed my eyes and quietly demanded. “What do you want?”

My brother had the good sense to look uncomfortable. He tried covering it up and looking confident, but I’ve been reading professional thieves and liars for three decades, and he just wasn’t in that class.

“We’re family,” Danny started to answer.

“I don’t have a family,” I spat out bitterly. “I learned that a long time ago.”

“I need your help,” Danny finally admitted, looking ashamed. When he looked at me again, I could see the desperation in his eyes. He wouldn’t have come looking for me unless he thought that he had no other choice.

“You need MY help?” I asked in surprise, as well as a healthy amount of suspicion. “Why? Do you need a painting or something?”

Danny didn’t answer at first. He couldn’t even look at me. “I…I need a supervillain.”

“A supervillain,” I carefully repeated, staring at him intensely. “What are you talking about?”

My Imp senses were tingling, and I was suddenly worried that I’d walked into a trap of some kind. However, in spite of that, I didn’t run. Instead, I decided to play ignorant and see where this led.

“I…I saw you on TV once,” Danny admitted, still looking nervous. “On the news. They were doing a story about a supervillain called the Imp, who had just robbed a museum and escaped some superheroes…” He stared at me for a moment and gulped. “When they zoomed in on this Imp…I recognized you.” Then Dany gave me a weak smile. “You look…looked distinctive.”

For a moment, I remained froze, not sure how to take that revelation. Danny Boy knew I was the Imp, which meant that he was even more dangerous to me than I’d expected. I quickly scanned my surroundings again, just to make sure no one was sneaking up on me.

“I don’t think that this is the right place to talk about this,” I said, slowly standing up.

Danny stood up as well, looking alarmed. “But…”

“I’ll be in touch,” I told him with a grin I didn’t really feel. “Or I won’t.” And with that, I hurried out of the restaurant.

--------------------

Manhattan NY, Saturday late afternoon, Oct 20th, 2007

Barnaby’s was a small, hole in the wall restaurant, with an entrance that you’d never really notice unless you knew to look for it. The seating area was small, consisting of only six tables, but it was in the back and not visible from the street. And though the food was good, the best thing about the place was the privacy. It actually reminded me a lot of an old speakeasy.

And of course, Barnaby’s was mutant friendly, and completely neutral. They didn’t care if you were a hero, villain, or other. As long as you behaved and paid your bill, you were welcome. That made this the perfect place for Ryan and I to have our date.

I was sitting at my table, without any disguise at all. Before going to Whateley, that would have been quite a novelty, eating at a restaurant as myself. However, I’ve been a little spoiled as of late, since I’d been able to eat out in the open nearly every day for the last couple months.

Ironically, Ryan was the one wearing a costume. Admittedly, it was only a pair of glasses and a baseball cap, but it was an attempt to hide his identity. After all, Ryan Chambers couldn’t be seen in the company of the fabulous Imp. That would result in some questions, and could threaten his own secret identity.

Last week, when Ryan and I had been in Boston, we’d had similar issues. We spent most of the day wandering around Boston, checking out the tourist attractions and an art gallery, while I was dressed in my usual disguise of a long coat and big floppy hat. Then, we’d returned to his hotel room, for a nice room service dinner. After that, we’d kissed a little, but didn’t do anything more than that.

Ryan and I were sort of dating now, which came with a lot of complications. The most obvious was, that I was a retired supervillain, and he was an active superhero. The fact that he’d spent years trying to capture me, added a certain spice to our relationship now. But of course, there were other problems, such as my GSD and the problems that caused whenever I went out in public. It was difficult to enjoy dinner in a nice restaurant, when you could be thrown out at any moment, or attacked by an angry mob with pitchforks and torches. That actually has happened to me too.

“Why Chickenhawk?” Ryan abruptly asked me. “I mean, why give me THAT nickname?”

“It was either that or Superchicken,” I pointed out with a grin, swishing my tail back and forth behind my seat.

Ryan hesitated a moment, then chuckled. “I guess I got off easy…”

“Yep,” I agreed cheerfully. “You annoyed me, but you never really pissed me off. Well, except that one time….”

“I remember,” he responded with a wince. “You definitely take getting your tail pulled…personally.”

With a shrug, I pointed out, “It hurts like hell. It’s… Imagine if someone grabbed you by your twig and berries, and then yanked as yard as they could…and not in a good way.”

“Ouch,” Ryan exclaimed with a wince.

I nodded at that. “There’s a good reason I discourage people from pulling my tail.”

Turning my attention to my plate, I took a bite of my veal piccata, which was absolutely delicious. Then, I looked at Ryan’s plate and his chicken marsala, which also looked tasty. I was tempted to reach over and steal a little from his plate. Then again, I was a thief, so I reached over with my fork and swiped a piece of chicken. Instead of being offended by that, Ryan actually looked amused.

“I should have expected that from a professional thief,” Ryan joked.

“Yes, you should have,” I agreed cheerfully. Then, as a peace offering, I gave him a small piece of my veal.

After this, our conversation turned to art, one of the passions we both shared. We’d talked about various classic artists last week in Boston, but this time, the topic was new and upcoming artists.

“Have you seen any of Clarissa Moore’s work?” Ryan asked me. “She does a lot of vivid watercolors…”

“She’s fond of sunrises and sunsets in her work,” I commented, to show that I knew exactly what he was talking about. “What about Roland Shwartz?”

“I think he’s overhyped,” Ryan told me with a chuckle. “He’s popular at the moment, but he’s just a fad. I don’t think he’ll have any staying power…” Then in a conspiratorial tone, he added, “Just don’t tell any of my clients.”

“I won’t,” I promised with a smirk.

The kind of people whom Ryan worked with in his art buying business, were the same people I tended to relieve of artwork in my former career. In fact, some of his clients were also former clients of mine, having hired me to acquire new pieces for them, in a less than legal fashion. And though I’d love to point out this little fact, and even name a few names, that would have been unprofessional of me.

“What do you think of Candice Kade?” Ryan asked.

I was a little startled by that question, and for a brief moment, was afraid that he knew about me. Then, I realized that he was just continuing the conversation with yet another artist, without knowing that she and I were the same person.

“She’s one of my favorite painters,” I answered honestly.

“Mine too,” Ryan responded with a smile. “I have one of her pieces on my wall at home, and another in my office…”

“Really?” I asked in surprise. I knew about the one in his house, because Melissa had mentioned it to me before. However, I hadn’t been aware that he had another one of my paintings in his office.

“And for Melissa’s birthday,” Ryan continued, “Candice actually gave a painting to her. It was quite an amusing piece…”

“I’m sure it was,” I agreed, trying to hide my smirk, though my tail swished back and forth.

Once we were finished with dinner and dessert, I slipped my long jacket and hat back on to help disguise my appearance. It was kind of a pain in the tail, but it was necessary if I wanted to go out in public without drawing unwanted attention. Of course, I knew that there was another option, but I wasn’t about to reveal my amulet and my greatest secret.

“So, what should we do now?” Ryan asked as we left Barnaby’s. “What do you like to do for fun?” Before I could answer, he quickly added, “I mean, when you’re not stealing things.”

“Spoilsport,” I responded with a grin. “Let’s see… I check out art galleries and museums… I stay home where I watch TV…a LOT. And…” Then I paused and began to grin mischieviously. “Well, there is one other thing…”

“What?” Ryan asked, obviously confused and a little curious.

“Stay here for a minute,” I told him, right before running into a convenience store. I came back out a minute later with a plastic bag in hand, which contained my purchase. “Come on…”

“Okay,” Ryan responded, giving me another curious look. “Where are we going?”

“I’m not gonna tell you,” I responded in a teasing, sing-song voice.

With that, I hailed a cab, and a short time later, it dropped us off at our destination. I was just thankful that it was such a short ride, because I wasn’t comfortable riding in cars for very long. They always made me feel trapped.

“Here we are,” I announced, walking into the front lobby of the old skyscraper.

“And where is here?” Ryan asked.

I gave him a wink. “Wait and see…”

It was only a short walk to the elevators, then a long ride up to the top. We arrived at the highest level the elevator would take us, then went out onto the observation. There was a chain link fence all around it, to keep people from jumping, or from throwing things. However, there was also another platform two stories above us, one that wasn’t accessible from the elevator. This wasn’t an official observation deck, but a small part of the roof, which wasn’t normally accessible by anyone but maintenance. After making sure that no one was watching, I scrambled up the wall to the next platform, while Ryan used his powers to float up and join me.

“Here we are,” I announced, gesturing around the open area. “One of my favorite places to just come and sit.” I went over to a corner and pulled out the folding chair that I’d hidden up here. There was only one chair, because I’d never brought anyone else. “Do you want a seat?”

“You have a good view from here,” Ryan said, looking out at the scenery with a smile.

Ryan wasn’t quite as impressed as I’d hoped, but I realized that I should have expected that. After all, he could fly, and was capable of getting up even higher whenever he wanted, and getting an even better view. Still, he seemed to be enjoying himself.

I looked around, quickly seeing something in the air, going past us. With a grin, I pointed towards grey and blue clad figure, and announced, “Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane… Oh wait…it’s only a bird brain.”

“That’s Pigeon,” Ryan said, recognizing the superhero.

I’d heard of the Pigeon of course, since I did my homework on all the local heroes, though I’d always avoided this particular one. He wasn’t very powerful, and was considered to be a joke, since all he could do was fly and control pigeons. However, no criminal really wanted to face him, because they’d get so disgustingly messy, that it just wasn’t worth the effort.

“Now, this is what I do for fun,” I said, reaching into the bag from the convenience store and pulling out a carton of eggs.

With an evil grin, I took one out, and carefully focused the energy of my PK aura. If I pushed too much, the egg would just explode in my hand, and that would defeat the entire purpose of this exercise. A moment later, I threw the egg, using a little extra PK oomph to send it flying far enough, that I could hit the Pigeon. As soon as the egg exploded on his side, I immediately burst out laughing.

“Duck,” I said, dropping to the ground and pulling Ryan down with me. If I’d been on my own, I simply would have used my chameleon field instead.

“No,” Ryan responded with an amused look. “Pigeon.”

I laughed at that. “Good one.”

I continued watching the Pigeon for a moment. He’d stopped and was now hovering in the air, wiping the egg off his costume and looking around for the source. He didn’t see me though, and after a minute, he flew off, continuing on his way.

Once the Pigeon was gone, Ryan and I stood back up again. He stared at me for several seconds before saying, “So, you’re the one who’s been egging all the heroes…” Then he let out a deep sigh, probably remembering the times he’d been hit with mysterious eggs that seemed to come out of nowhere. “I should have known…”

“Yep,” I agreed cheerfully as I handed him an egg. “Now, it’s your turn.” I pointed to another figure that was flying in our direction. “Unless I miss my guess, that’s Silver Storm, and he’s a villain…”

“You want me to egg a villain?” Ryan asked me in surprise. I responded with a grin, one which he matched a moment later. “Why not…?”

Ryan’s egg missed, falling short by a good distance. He didn’t have my PK aura to boost his throw, though I suspected that with the right application of his gravity power, he could probably do just as well. Silver Storm didn’t seem to realize that someone was throwing eggs at him, and he flew off without ever stopping.

“This area,” I explained to Ryan, “is an intersection for that invisible road in the sky. Nearly every hero or villain in Manhattan, flies past this building while crossing over from one side of the island to another.”

Ryan’s eyes widened in realization. “Then this would be the perfect spot to ambush people…”

I nodded at that. “If you wait here long enough, nearly every flying cape in Manhattan comes through here.”

“I don’t know how many times I’ve flown through here,” Ryan admitted with a thoughtful look. “I’ve never really noticed it before.” Then he gave me a wry look before continuing, “Though I do know a number of heroes who’ve complained about the mysterious eggings.”

“It’s therapeutic,” I told him with a grin. “Great stress relief.” Then, I held out one of my throwing spikes, and added, “And a lot less damaging than if I threw these instead.” His eyes widened again, as he realized just how nasty things could have been, if I’d been interested in actually hurting the heroes, rather than playing a few harmless pranks.

After this, Ryan and I sat down on the ground, not bothering with the chair since there was only one. We leaned up against each other and simply watched the scenery and the occasional person who flew past, leaving the rest of the eggs untouched. At first, we merely talked. Then we began to kiss. This was a wonderful date.

--------------------

Manhattan NY, Sunday morning, Oct 21st, 2007

“Oh, Danny boy,” I sang out, “the pipes, the pipes are calling…”

At the moment, I was in Danny Boy’s hotel room, having snuck in when he’d gone into the bathroom. I was making myself comfortable in the recliner, though I remained hidden with my chameleon field.

“From glen to glen, and down the mountainside ” I continued to sing, until Danny Boy burst out of the bathroom to see what the noise was.

“Who’s there?” Danny Demanded, holding his electric razor as though it was a weapon.

The sight made me smile. “The summers gone and all the roses falling,” I sang a little more, while watching my brother spin around, looking to see where it was coming from.

“Candice?” Danny demanded, now looking nervous. “Is that you…?”

I waited until my brother was facing the other direction, then I dropped my chameleon field. That was a trick that I’d learned after running away from home, so he didn’t know about it, or most of my other tricks, and I had no intention of cluing him in. Still, not only was it useful, it was also fun.

“Hello again, Danny boy,” I said.

Danny snapped around, only to freeze as he saw me. This time, I wasn’t wearing my amulet or disguising myself in any way. In fact, I was dressed in my working outfit, the black and red catsuit that I used with my criminal profession. Yesterday, Danny saw Candice. This morning, he was seeing the Imp.

I’d swept the room for bugs before doing anything else. And while I’d been at it, I’d looked for any weapons or signs that this was a trap. Since I hadn’t found anything dangerous, I’d decided to go ahead and make my move, hence the dramatic entrance.

“Candice,” Danny started, surprised by my appearance.

“I told you yesterday,” I reminded him with a forced smile, “I go by Christine now. Or Imp. In fact, most people call me Imp. Only my friends call me Christine.”

Danny visibly gulped, then said, “You look…”

“Like me again,” I stated. “Yesterday, I was in disguise. Today, I’m not.” I winked at him, and in a conspiratorial voice, I added, “Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.” Then, in a serious voice, I said, “I mean that. Not a word.”

“How did you get in?” Danny asked, looking nervous. He glanced to the locked door, probably not realizing that I’d come in through the window. We were a few stories up, so most people wouldn’t consider that.

“Um, hello,” I said, standing up and rolling my eyes. “Professional thief and supervillain here…”

Danny backed away a little, as if afraid of me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I didn’t like people being afraid of me, not even people who’d been total jerks. Of course, as with most things, there were exceptions.

“What do you want?” I asked my brother. “You said you needed a supervillain.” I narrowed my eyes.

“Yes,” he admitted awkwardly.

Danny went over to the tiny bar and grabbed one of those miniature bottles to pour himself a shot of whiskey. It was a little early for drinking, but at the moment, I wouldn’t mind one either.

“I’m not in that business anymore,” I said. “I’m a high school teacher now.”

Danny snorted at that, obviously not believing it. For some reason, almost nobody believed that I was really a teacher.

“I need help,” Danny said, looking ashamed. “I’m caught in a bad situation, and I need someone who knows how to deal with criminals and superheroes.” He couldn’t bring himself to look at me as he added, “You’re the only person I know who might be able to help.”

“You need MY help?” I exclaimed, as thirty years of bitterness that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, bubbled up to the surface. “Where were you when I needed help? Where were you when I was living on the street and begging for food? And where were you when the cops started shooting me for the crime of having horns? I don’t owe you anything.”

When I got up this morning, I’d been in a great mood after my date last night. It had been incredible, just sitting on top of that building and kissing Ryan. But now, my good mood was gone entirely.

Danny took several steps back, looking worried and ashamed. However, he looked up and met my eyes, and along with all that, I saw desperation. He’d come to me because he had no other choice.

“What do you need?” I snapped at him. “Why come looking for me after thirty years? It sure as hell isn’t for some family reunion.”

“I…I’m in trouble,” Danny finally said. He downed his whisky in a single shot.

With a wry smile, I said, “That much is obvious.”

“Do you know that Mother and Father are dead?” Danny abruptly demanded. “Did you even know that our father died of a heart attack, or that our mother had a stroke? They’ve both been gone for almost twenty years.”

“Yes,” I answered grimly. “Yes I knew.”

“You didn’t come to their funerals,” Danny accused me.

I wondered if he was trying to turn this whole conversation around, to make me out to be the one who betrayed the family, instead of the one who’d been betrayed. It might be an attempt to feel self-righteous, or to guilt me into helping him with whatever it was he wanted.

“And they would have preferred it that way,” I stated in a cold tone. “You know that as well as I do. Now, what does that have to do with why you came here?”

Danny scowled at that, but he didn’t argue with me. Instead, he said, “After they died, I inherited the gallery, and I’ve been running it since.”

I nodded at that since I already knew Danny Boy now owned the family art gallery. I had a lot of fond memories of the place from when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t been there in three decades. Once, I’d even turned down a job to rob the place.

“Business wasn’t doing very well,” Danny said, staring out the window. “It hadn’t been for a long time, and things only got worse. We were deep in debt, and I was about to lose everything when…” He turned to look at me again. “Then some investors showed up with a lot of money…”

Warning bells rang in my head, and I suddenly had a pretty good idea of what was going on. “They wanted to use the gallery for money laundering.” I’d seen this kind of thing before.

“I didn’t know that at first,” Danny admitted, looking ashamed. “I only found out later, after they were already doing it. After it was too late.”

“And if you interfere,” I said in understanding, “they kill you and your loved ones.”

“They promised they would,” Danny said in whisper. “And now, there’s a superhero after me too. He thinks I’m in charge of the whole thing, and he wants to send me to prison…”

“And if you tell him what you know,” I thought aloud. “If you go to the police or offer to testify against your investors…”

“Yes,” Danny agreed with a wince. “If they think I might turn them in…”

“So, you’re caught between a rock and a hard space,” I mused, “and you want me to pull you out.”

Danny hesitated a moment before nodding. “Yes,” he admitted. “Please… I know you’re a supervillain, so if you can deal with this hero…”

I stared at Danny for a moment, realizing that he was missing the picture. If I dealt with the hero, then he’d still have the investors holding a gun to his head, and they were likely to pull the trigger.

“You’re in deep doo-doo,” I told Danny. “I mean, hip wader deep, and it’s gonna take a whole lotta shoveling to get out.”

“But will you help me?” he asked, staring at me with pleading eyes.

For a moment, I considered the situation, and whether or not I even wanted to help Danny. I’d cut ties with my family a long time ago, so this wasn’t any of my business. Whatever trouble Danny was in, he’d brought it on himself.

“Shazbot,” I spat out, glaring at Danny Boy. “I’m not a superhero, and absolutely nowhere in my job description, does it say that I do good deeds.”

Danny didn’t say anything to that. He just stood there, looking like some poor schmuck in court, waiting for the verdict to be read. Though he was trying to look dignified, it didn’t really work, and in spite of myself, I actually felt sorry for him.

After a minute of consideration, I gave Danny Boy an evil smile. “Time to make a deal with the devil,” I said, tapping my fingers together. “I’ll help you, but I want something in return.”

“You want the gallery,” Danny said with a sigh.

“No,” I responded grimly. “What I want, is to be left alone. I want you to keep quiet about me, and about the fact that Candice Kade and the Imp are the same person. I have an art career…and am being taken seriously as a legitimate artist, and I don’t want to lose it all because you tell someone that your long lost sister is a mutant supervillain.”

“Deal,” Danny quickly said, looking relieved.

Danny Boy and I shook on our agreement, then I told him, “I’ll look into things and see what I can do, but don’t expect an overnight solution.” Then I nodded to him and said, “I’ll be in touch.”

With that, I turned to leave, deciding to give an appropriately dramatic exit. A moment later, I threw a small smoke bomb to the ground, and used the smoke as cover to pull off my vanishing trick. In mere seconds, I was out the window and gone.

--------------------

New York, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 21st, 2007

I was sitting at my table in the Black Mask, the best supervillain bar in New York, in my humble opinion, and one of my usual drinking spots. It was a bit early in the day to be hanging around a bar drinking, but after dealing with Danny Boy this morning, I really needed a strong drink. At the moment, I was drinking a glass of ‘radioactive acid’. I had absolutely no idea what was in it, but it tasted great.

After meeting with my brother, I’d made a few calls and set a few wheels in motion. For the most part, I just wanted a little more information about the ‘investors’ who were using the gallery, and the hero who was now putting pressure on him. I didn’t trust Danny enough to tell me the full truth, and I was going to need that if I was going to stick my nose where it didn’t belong.

“Poking hornet nests can be fun,” I told myself with a wry smile. “But only if you have some kind of protection, or an exit strategy.”

Then I finished off the rest of my drink, reminding myself that in just a few hours, I’d be back at Whateley, where my biggest concerns were dodging Barney and grading papers. I had just enough time for another drink, before I’d have to go to the airport and catch my flight. Of course, this time probably would have been better spent, if I’d used it to go say goodbye to Ryan instead.

“Too late now,” I said with a sigh of disappointment.

I was just standing up to leave, when I noticed a large man walking towards me. Muscle was a shifter, who could increase his height and muscle mass at will, making himself a lot stronger in the process. However, he wasn’t powerful enough to have ever made it into the big leagues. Still, he was strong, looked intimidating, and had a reputation for both professionalism and discretion, which meant that he was rarely short of work opportunities.

“Imp,” Muscle greeted me with a nod. “I haven’t seen you around here in awhile.”

“I haven’t been around in awhile,” I responded with a cheerful smile and a swish of my tail.

Muscle nodded at that, asking, “Laying low, or have you been working a big job?”

“A bit of both,” I admitted with a smirk. “But I doubt it’s the kind of job you’re thinking of.”

“I just wanted to give you a heads up,” Muscle told me. “A couple people have been asking around about you.”

“Someone mentioned that to me yesterday,” I said with a scowl. “Do you have any idea who?”

Muscle shrugged. “Some woman I’ve never seen before, and Crash Test Dummy was with her.”

“Crash Test Dummy?” I repeated in surprise. “Is he still holding a grudge?”

With a laugh, Muscle reminded me, “You did cut off his hand. And even worse, you changed his name and made him into a laughingstock…”

“He did that himself,” I responded with a dismissive wave. “The laughingstock part that is.”

“Either way, it might be a good idea to watch your back,” Muscle warned me.

“Thanks for the heads up,” I said, giving him a nod of acknowledgement.

Muscle gave me a nod of acknowledgement back, then went back to his own table, where a couple of his friends were waiting. I waited a minute, then got up to leave, stopping just long enough to talk to Carl, the bartender.

“Muscle’s next couple drinks are on me,” I said, putting a twenty on the counter, and then leaving.

Less than a minute later, I stepped out the door of the Black Mask and let out a sigh. I had enough time to get back home, pick up my luggage, and then make it to the airport. I was not looking forward to the hassle of airport security…not that I really dealt with it much. I tended to use my chameleon field to slip around certain annoyances, like the entire ticket and security process, or I’d board as Candice Kade, which simplified things in other ways.

I’d barely walked a dozen yards from the Black Mask door, when I suddenly noticed a bright red glow from the corner of my eye. An instant later, I reacted out of pure reflex and leapt to the side, but only barely managing to do so in time. Something smashed into the spot where I’d been standing, creating a small explosion that sent me tumbling back.

“What the…?” I started, though I was already reacting to this unexpected attack. As soon as I came to a stop, I was back on my feet, tensed to react as soon as I needed to. But first, I wanted to know what I was dealing with.

A man was standing in a small crater, right where I’d been mere seconds ago. He was dressed in dirty jeans and a battered old jacket, street clothes rather than a costume. However, his entire body was surrounded by a glowing red aura, which warned me not to underestimate him.

“Imp,” the man snarled, his voice filled with cold hatred. “I’ve dreamed about this moment for a very long time…”

“Wow,” I responded with a grin that helped to hide my wariness. “You must have some really messed up dreams. Have you talked to a shrink about that? You look like someone who needs to talk to a shrink.”

My attacker charged at me, but I dodged to the side, then ran back to keep my distance. I didn’t know who this guy was, or why he was coming at me, but I wasn’t about to let him get close.

“You took my life from me,” the glowing man exclaimed. “I’m going to kill you…”

With those words, he held out his hands, and suddenly, his entire glowing aura seemed to be pulled into his hands…then released as a blast of red energy. I focused all the energy in my PK aura to my legs, just in time to give me an extra boost to my jump. I barely managed to avoid being hit by that energy blast. A second later, I hit the ground and came back to my feet, only to stare at my opponent in realization. I knew that power, and I knew the man using it. I hadn’t seen him in years, and he looked older…more worn down. But I knew who he was.

“Well, well, well,” I said with an evil grin. “If it isn’t the Crimson Kid. The last I’d heard, you were drowning your sorrows in a bottle…”

Once, the Crimson Kid had been a superhero, or at least, people had called him one. However, in his reckless attack on a villain, he accidentally killed an innocent bystander. It was a tragic mistake, which he compounded by intentionally killing another bystander who’d witnessed the event, all in order to protect himself from the consequences of his mistake.

Then, as if that hadn’t been bad enough, the so-called hero had made the worst mistake yet. He blamed both deaths on the villain he’d been fighting, a man named Monster Max, who’d suffered from GSD, and was a known rager. Because of that, the kangaroo trial was done and over with in the blink of an eye, without anyone even questioning his guilt. As a result, Max had been executed in nearly record time.

Monster Max had been a friend of mine, and I took his fate rather personally. My truly vindictive side made a rare appearance, and I’d gone after the Crimson Kid, destroying both his personal and professional reputations, then setting all of Max’s other friends loose on him. The last thing I’d heard, the former her had been living on the streets in Chicago, homeless and drunk. Obviously, something had changed.

The Crimson Kid was no longer glowing, at least for a couple seconds. Then, the red aura began to reform, reminding me of his powers. He was an energizer, who could use his energy field like a PK shell, and he could also release all the energy at once as blasts. Right now, he was recharging so he’d be ready for another attack.

I’d never fought the Crimson Kid before, at least not in a direct fight. Instead, after he’d killed Max, I’d come at him a somewhat more subtle direction, hitting his reputation rather than him. Because of that, I was now facing an opponent that I’d never actually dealt with like this before.

“You ruined my life,” the Crimson Kid exclaimed. “You took everything… I was a hero…”

“I hate to tell you this, Red Goat,” I responded, “but heroes don’t go around killing innocent people, and then framing others.” Then I grinned evil, “Blah blah blah…or is that baa baa baa?”

The former hero charged at me again, raising his fist to punch, though I easily dodged him. He’d obviously been out of the game for a long time, and was more than a little rusty. I could probably beat him without much effort, but the question was, why should I bother. After all, it might be satisfying to smack him around for a bit, but there wasn’t any real benefit to risking myself like that. Because of that, I decided that the best move, would simply be to get a little distance between us and then pull my vanishing trick.

A moment later, I turned and ran, though I reached into a pouch on my belt for a smoke bomb. But before I could use it, something suddenly slammed into me from the side, and I felt a burning pain even as I was flung through the air. I hit the ground hard enough that half my body was going to be bruised. But in spite of that, I quickly scrambled back to my feet. I’d learned a long time ago, that sitting around in the middle of a fight, was a good way to get myself killed, even when it was because I was hurt.

“I got her,” a man exclaimed, though that wasn’t the Crimson Kid’s voice.

I looked at the source, and saw a man dressed in a green and gray costume, which looked like a cross between tactical gear and some kind of lightweight armor. A mask covered his entire face, so I couldn’t make out any of his features, however, I did notice some high tech equipment strapped to his costume, including a metal gauntlet on his right hand.

“Now,” the newcomer announced, holding out the hand with the gauntlet, which began to glow green. “The ugly bitch dies…”

The newcomer fired some kind of shockwave blast out of his gauntlet, and I dove to the side and ducked behind a car to avoid being hit. Another blast came, this time of red energy as the Crimson Kid took a turn. I jumped and ran, trying to get some distance between me and my attackers.

Suddenly, I slammed into an invisible wall, and when I snapped around to run in a different direction, I realized it wouldn’t do any good. I was caught inside some kind of force field trap. The ground around me was glowing in a circle that was about six feet across. No, I realized a moment later. It wasn’t in the shape of a circle. It was in the shape of a hexagon.

Before I could decide my next move, the Crimson Kid and the man in green came forward and raised their arms for another attack. I tried to leap up and out of the way, but hit the invisible wall again, just an instant before their attacks hit. My body exploded in pain and I fell to the ground, dazed and hurting too much to move, much less get back to my feet.

“We got her,” a voice called out, from what seemed to be a great distance.

Then, when I thought I couldn’t hurt any more, I felt a new pain…a sharp agony that shot through my lower spine. I screamed out, now finding the ability to move, though barely. My eyes snapped open, and I saw Crash Test Dummy standing over me. In one hand, he was holding an energy sword, but in the other, he was holding my severed tail.

“Now, let’s see how YOU like it,” Crash Test Dummy demanded with a gloating laugh.

“She cut off my foot,” the man in green snarled. “She stole my powers. She destroyed my reputation and my life…”

I stared up at the man in green, hurting so much that I had a hard time focusing. However, I still recognized that voice. I’d never seen that costume before today, but I definitely knew that voice.

“Jack Ass,” I managed to gasp, in spite of the fact that it hurt to breath, much less speak. The man in green was Jack Rabbit, a ‘hero’ whom I’d tangled with a couple months ago.

“We all have reasons to want the Imp dead,” a woman said in a grim voice.

That drew my attention to the fact that I was now surrounded by five people, none of whom looked friendly. The Crimson Kid, Crash Test Dummy, and Jack Ass had already made themselves known, in violent and painful fashion. Then, there was a figure in a red cloak, with the hood down to obscure the face. However, I didn’t miss the golden brooch, which was shaped like a hexagon. And then, there was the woman who spoke a moment earlier.

The woman was blonde, busty, and absolutely gorgeous…if you were interested in that whole statuesque and stacked blonde look. From her appearance, my guess was that she was probably an exemplar. She was also wearing a white costume, with some gold metallic trim.

“Who…are…you?” I gasped, desperately trying to buy myself some time.

“You know very well who I am,” the woman snapped, which confused me a bit since I had absolutely no idea of who she was.

“Sorry,” I responded with a forced smirk, “but you busty blonde types all look the same to me… I mean, if you’ve seen one blonde bimbo, you’ve seen them all…”

The woman glared at me, anger burning in her gaze. I had to fight back a smile, but not too hard since I was in so much pain. I could feel a monologue coming, which would not only buy me some more time, but hopefully, give me a few answers.

“You’ve made a great many enemies, Imp,” the blonde exclaimed, spitting my name out as if it was a profanity. “It was a simple matter of finding a few, who were eager for a chance at revenge.” She gestured at the other four people who surrounded me, sneering, “So here we are…an Imp Revenge Squad, if you will…”

“But what if I won’t?” I asked, wincing from the pain. “I get why Crash Test Dummy, the Red Goat, and Jackass are after me…” I looked at the figure in red, now getting a good enough look to tell that it was a woman. The golden hexagon shaped brooch gave me a nice clue about her motives. “And let me guess, you’re Hexagoner two point oh…”

“You killed my mentor,” Hexagoner 2.0 said in a cold tone. “I’m honor bound to avenge his death.”

With a chuckle, Crash Test Dummy added, “And Hexagon’s will says you have to take out his killer if you want to inherit anything.”

“I didn’t kill Hexagoner,” I said, though I was pretty sure it wouldn’t do any good. I looked back at the blonde, “And what’s your story? Let me guess, you’re so jealous of my ravishing good looks, that you want to kill me so that you can be the fairest in the land…”

The blonde snarled, “Don’t you even pretend that you don’t know who I am. You ruined my wedding day, destroyed my father, and humiliated my entire family…”

“Sorry,” I admitted, giving a painful shrug. “But that doesn’t ring a bell. I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”

“We’re going to tear you to pieces for what you’ve done,” the woman exclaimed, looking like she was about to start a full blown diedricks rant. Then she looked at Crash Test Dummy and commanded, “Start with her arm…”

“I already started with her tail, Heaven,” Crash Test Dummy responded, though he turned his attention to me anyway, and then swung his energy sword.

I saw the sword coming, and desperately channeled every ounce of energy in my aura, to the palm of my hand. Then, I reached out and caught his energy sword in my hand, relying on the focused PK shield to protect my hand, at least for a couple seconds. While Crash Test Dummy gasped in surprise, I leapt up to my feet, pushing the glowing blade away from me…and through Jack Ass’ side, though unfortunately it didn’t go very deep. He screamed, I released the energy blade, and used my claws to slash at the Crimson Kid’s eyes. That gave me enough of an opening to break free of the group.

The blonde, who Crash Test Dummy had referred to as Heaven, shouted, “Don’t let her escape…”

For a brief moment, I considered my options, but unfortunately, there weren’t many good ones. I was badly outnumbered, seriously injured, and in absolutely no condition to fight. Hell, without my tail, my balance was messed up too.

I thought about running back into the Black Mask, but there were several problems with that. First, I’d have to get past Hexagoner 2.0, Heaven, and Crash Test Dummy, just to run in that direction. And second, if I ran through those doors now, I’d be announcing to everyone inside, that I was currently weak and injured, and all the vultures would start circling. If I ran for cover in the Black Mask, my reputation would take the kind of hit that it might never recover from.

A situation like this one demanded a smart-ass comment or a clever joke, something I could use to amuse myself, while mocking or distracting my opponent. Unfortunately, I was hurting far too much to come up with anything. Instead, I threw several of my throwing spikes, followed by some smoke bombs. In the cloud of smoke that followed, I ran as fast as I could.

“Where’d she go?” Hexagoner 2.0 demanded.

The Crimson Kid fired an energy blast in my general direction, missing me but hitting a parked car. Small pieces of shrapnel went flying, and a couple pieces hit me, tearing into my shoulder and thigh. I bit back the scream of pain and continued getting away as fast as I could. Then, once I was far enough away and crouched down behind a car, I used my chameleon field to vanish.

“WE HAD HER,” Jack Ass shouted in anger and frustration. “I warned you she was slippery…”

“We’ll find her,” Heaven responded. “She’s injured and can’t have gone far…”

My attackers began searching for me, splitting up to do so. I remained where I was, crouching down behind a car and using my chameleon field to remain hidden. As hurt as I was, it wasn’t easy to stay focused enough to do this, but somehow, I managed. Two of them even walked right past my hiding spot without seeing me.

Once they were all gone, I let out a sigh of relief and muttered, “The Imp Revenge Squad. What kind of a stupid name is that?”

With a grimace, I slowly got up and began moving towards a nearby alley. I was hurting too bad to keep my chameleon field up, which meant, I’d have to use some more traditional methods of hiding.

“The Imp Revenge Squad,” I repeated again, snorting as I did so. “But when this IRS says that they want to take an arm and a leg, they mean it literally…” I winced at that, fully aware of my missing tail. The horrible pain was a reminder that I couldn’t very well ignore, though I was doing my best to distract myself from it. “Imp versus the IRS. That sounds like a good title for a book…”

The IRS had been waiting for me. They’d been waiting outside the Black Mask, just so they could ambush me. I didn’t need to wonder about why they chose that location, or how they knew I’d be there. Crash Test Dummy knew that I was a regular there, or at least, that I had been when I’d still lived in the area full time. It wouldn’t have taken much for him to realize that if they kept watch on the place, then sooner or later, I’d show up.

I staggered down the alley, wincing in pain with nearly every step. In spite of that, I kept moving, and I kept looking around for any sign of my attackers. Crash Test Dummy momentarily stepped into the alley for a look, but I was able to form my chameleon field again, just long enough for him to leave. Then, I continued to hurry away as quickly as my body would allow me.

At the other end of the alley, I found a homeless guy curled up and sleeping in a doorway. A dirty old parka was folded up beside him, and it seemed to smell about as bad as he did. However, beggars couldn’t be choosers, so I took the jacket, since it would help to hide my unique features.

“Sorry about this,” I whispered, feeling bad for stealing from someone with so little.

I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt for stealing paintings, but this was different. I reached into my utility belt and pulled out some of my emergency funds, leaving a small stack of bills in the man’s hand.

“That should more than cover it,” I said, before I continued on my way.

Every movement was an agony, but I didn’t dare stop and rest. My entire body was severely bruised, and this probably included some of my internal organs. I was pretty sure that at least one of my ribs were broken, and I had several deep gashes, which were still bleeding a little. And then, there was my tail, or lack thereof.

“I’ll heal,” I whispered, knowing that my regeneration would take care of everything. I just needed a safe place to lay low and rest.

My first thought was that I had to get back home, to the Imp Lair, but then I realized it was too far away. In the shape I was in, I’d never make it that far. My safe house was closer, but even that was too much distance for my current condition.

However, there was one other place I could go, one that was closer than even my safe house. With a grimace, I pulled the filthy parka closer to me, then focused on simply taking one step after another until I could find a bus or taxi.

I reached my destination a short time later, and stood in front of a door. My hand shook as I rang the doorbell, and it was all I could do to remain standing.

When the door opened, Ryan stood there, staring at me in surprise. “Imp?”
At this point, I couldn’t remain standing any longer and collapsed, right into Ryan’s arms. “Christine,” he gasped in horror, suddenly noticing my state. “What happened? Who did this to you?”

“Some bad old puddy tats,” I muttered in response. At that moment, I felt safe in his arms, so I allowed my eyes to close and darkness to descend.



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