Seven Days 3

Carnal lounged on the hotel bed, nibbling on the last of the rather tasty platter of mixed appetizers from room service while she watched the news on her new phone.

“The rogue dancer known as Carnal has struck again, this time disrupting a bridal fashion show in a mall downtown. The DJ, who swears he, quote, ‘just wanted to make her happy,’ played her signature track ‘Roxy Roller’ and two others she asked for. In an all-white version of a belly-dance costume, she invaded the stage and displaced the models, danced for the duration of the three songs in a style described by a witness as ‘mostly belly-dance or something but all sexy,’ then simply walked out past police, one of whom was photographed holding the door for her. Superhero Tecton, speaking for the League, is warning the public that she has unknown psychic abilities and is not a League member, therefore should be considered dangerous and should be avoided. While it appears to be difficult for anyone near her to think clearly, the League asks that if you see her, you report it immediately to their emergency number at…”

Blah blah blah. Conventional news channels kept saying the same thing.

She flipped to a different one.

“The dancing demon called Carnal dropped by a more sinful location tonight than the church picnic she crashed earlier today. Patrons at one of the area’s most popular adult entertainment venues were treated to the purple-skinned villainess, in a skimpy red costume, supplanting their usual performers for several songs, starting off with the usual ‘Roxy Roller’.”

It cut to one male customer, who said, “She’s the sexiest <bleep>ing thing on the planet. I don’t think she’s a villain, exactly. I mean, who’s she hurting?”

It switched to one of the dancers, a blonde woman with dark roots and butterscotch skin. “Man, that girl has got some moves to go with those killer curves. It’s not all that psychic thing. And she’s… she’s thoughtful. Before she left, she told everyone in the room to be nice to the rest of us and be generous to us and the waitresses and all. Best night we’ve had in a while. She danced without a license and without permission for less than fifteen minutes, said that, and left. How does that make her a villain?”

The video cut to another man. “She’s a demon, she’s obviously here to corrupt everyone who sees her into the cardinal sin of lust in particular. That’s low-hanging fruit around a den of vice like that one! We don’t need the League, we need prayers and virtue!”

Right. The only encouragement humanity needed as far as lust was to wholeheartedly embrace honesty and consent and diversity.

She wondered whether the religious guy would believe that she was still intensely horny but had decided that it would be unethical to indulge herself with someone who couldn’t help but want to have sex with her—a kind of supernatural mind-control rape that she just couldn’t stomach. She’d have liked to, but dancing was a more-than-adequate substitute.

It was best when she could find live music—buskers were great for that, and she liked that she was helping them out as well, and twice she’d found bands playing at local bars who were accommodating. She was fairly sure that the levels of supernatural influence varied greatly, and were often lowest with musicians, but she couldn’t be entirely sure since they were so often so enthusiastic. When that wasn’t an option, even dancing to recorded tracks was something.

None felt as good as she had with Jaz, and she apparently wasn’t the only one to think that something had just clicked: she’d found Jaz’s name and phone number scrawled on the back of a receipt slipped in with the stack of bills. She’d gone back to that park twice at slightly different times, spaced apart because she didn’t want anyone spotting a pattern and causing trouble for Jaz.

Social media was all about her right now. The trending tag in Toronto was # Carnal and it had spread well beyond. Shaky footage recorded by audience phones, and occasionally better ones recording events like the bridal show or in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing, showed the whole world what they’d missed. A dancer on YouTube analyzed the available recordings and concluded that Carnal had genuine advanced skills, even breaking down a few specific techniques and discussing where they were from and how they’d been integrated. She’d seen posts from Internet personalities saying that they were making a quick trip to Toronto in hopes of spotting her, maybe even beating the odds and being present at one of her many but brief and unpredictable performances. Others were trying to figure out where she’d come from, where she might be next, plotting her appearances on a map.

Over and over she saw variations of, If you see her, don’t call the League! They’ll stop her! Post it so we can come running!

Carnal had gone viral. She was running out of time. She’d checked at the mall, hoping she could pick up more Eureka Energy! to sustain this if necessary, but the vending machine was gone. That was disappointing, to say the least, but she was well on the way to her goal, and she was sure she’d be able to complete it. After that… it didn’t matter what happened.

Well, she’d eaten, and had a nap, and had eaten again after waking and showering. She just couldn’t seem to stop; she was always hungry. Fortunately, people were more than happy to feed her. Sometimes they were clearly hoping for her attention. Sometimes, she thought they weren’t, and were genuinely and willingly trying to support her. Probably that was just wishful thinking, but it was comforting. It was the same thing with the hotel rooms, and for that matter with her shopping trips and her run-ins with security or law enforcement. She couldn’t find a pattern and couldn’t reliably distinguish motivations, just knew that somehow, the world was letting her get away with this so far.

Except when she was dancing. At that point, everyone in range responded.

She got up and put music on her phone instead of videos, something to listen to while she did warmup stretches. She’d gotten off lucky the first time, but didn’t intend to push her luck.

She stopped only once she was satisfied that she could dance without injury. Even just being able to do a workout like this was a blessing and a joy, and part of her never wanted to stop. There were places out there she could dance for real, though, she just needed to go find them.

She picked up her newest dance costume. She felt a little guilty about constantly changing, but only a little: the specialized stores where she got them weren’t losing by it, since she paid them the full price, and she gave each one away—usually to someone in reach at the next performance, though she’d given Jaz a particularly gorgeous one in black and gold that she was sure would look good on her. She couldn’t afford to carry anything around with her. With the League looking for her, she had to keep moving erratically, drop by random hotels to shower and sleep for the three or four hours that she seemed to need, bring nothing that wouldn’t fit in a single bag.

Her current costume was a rich golden yellow with silver trim, and it contrasted beautifully against her lilac skin. Instead of a skirt, this one had loose trousers that were split high up the outside with a single tie holding them closed just below her knee, but she still had a dance scarf to tie in place to shimmer and draw the eye to her hips, and the bra-style top had matching bling to highlight the motions of her ribcage. She had jewellery now, and had discovered that her demon body came with pierced ears, allowing her to wear flashy heavy earrings and matching necklaces and bangles. They weren’t real gold and gems, of course, someone would get in trouble for giving her those and they’d cost too much to buy for no good reason, but they glittered and shone and that was all that mattered.

She’d fallen in love with a pair of shiny-golden ballroom-dance three-inch heels that were very well-made and comfortable, and they went with all the costumes she was choosing, so she’d been keeping them while disposing of the rest.

She’d also picked up a long lightweight black coat with a loose hood that she could draw up to cover her horns and colouring, deflecting at least casual glances from a distance.

There was no need to do makeup, just get dressed and brush her hair, pull on her long coat and pick up her small purse and her single new black backpack that could also be rolling luggage, and leave.

Jaz had told her yesterday in the park that there was a band playing tonight that would welcome her presence—they were all following her adventures online with fascination and to have her join them would be a thrill. It seemed highly unlikely that Jaz was setting a trap for her, and that sounded like fun. It was still early, but she could start travelling in that approximate direction, and she was sure she could find somewhere else for an impromptu performance. It might even just be in a park or a parking lot. She’d stored several good songs on her new phone and picked up a good set of Bluetooth speakers, so she wasn’t dependent on the presence of a DJ if she wanted to enjoy herself outside.

The sky was starting to darken, but that was fine. Toronto had its shadowy corners but there were no end of lights along main streets like Queen to serve as spotlights for her.

She hopped on the first streetcar she saw that was going the right way, and got off at a stop that looked like it might be promising.

There were no parks around here, but there were benches, and restaurant patios with people on them. That would do.

Head bowed, she pulled up the songs she wanted in order on her phone, and turned on her speakers and linked them.

Then she set them on a nearby bench next to her bag, slithered out of her coat, and posed for anyone who was looking as the first notes of ‘Roxy Roller’ rang out across the area.

A considerable number of voices actually cheered. Many of them were from far enough away that she was reasonably sure they weren’t in range of any psychic sex appeal—although they didn’t stay out of range for long. As she moved, she saw them gathering around her, tables and meals abandoned for the moment. Were they genuinely expecting to enjoy watching? Was it all about bragging rights? She didn’t know, and wasn’t sure she cared. They were paying attention. That mattered.

And dancing. Dancing mattered like oxygen and water and food mattered.

She finished in a dramatic arms-raised—and tail-raised—pose with the last notes of the last song, smiled at them, swept up her things, and strode away. There was a distinct possibility that one or more might try to follow her, she’d learned that the hard way, so as soon as she could she slipped between two buildings and out of sight, aiming for the next major street over. She could cross back in a block or two, find a quick snack somewhere, and continue on towards the club where the band Jaz knew was playing.

The ground quivered.

Her stomach lurched, and she fought down a surge of nausea. The floor had trembled like that just before Minotaur had torn out the load-bearing support wall. In her sleep, it always meant that her dreams were blurring into nightmares.

She forced that away just on sheer desperate willpower. She was on solid asphalt, not in a building. The ground in Toronto didn’t shake.

The ground was shaking. Rhythmically, in fact. Like footsteps.

A boxy masculine figure stomped into sight at the far end of the alley. His bronze plate armour, that of a fantasy knight that had never existed in reality, was too matte to gleam in the limited light. He slammed two heavily-gauntleted fists together and spread his feet.

The ground lurched, and Carnal stumbled, falling to her right knee with a force that sent pain shooting up her thigh and into her hip. She scrambled back to her feet and spun so she could flee back the way she’d come, though her right leg trembled under her.

Clinging to the wall was a skinnier, more elongated figure in a scale-textured green bodysuit that covered everything except his hands, feet, face, and the tail that no one could agree on as either fake or biological.

There was nowhere to go except past one of them, and that would slow her enough for the other to catch her.

Not yet! She still had twenty-eight hours left! After that she didn’t care, but to be stopped now?

Tecton, the armoured figure, laughed, and she whirled back towards him. “Gotcha, girlie. Your psychic shit won’t work on us. We can have some fun before Gecko and I take you back to the League, though. All those pics don’t lie, you really are fuckable as hell.”

“Dude, seriously?” The new voice was young, male, and utterly disgusted, and coming from behind her. Carnal was getting dizzy, trying to watch both ends at once. “’Rapey pricks in a dark alley’ is a villain trope. Have you looked at your job title lately?”

Two new people strolled along the alley. Gecko scrambled down the wall towards them, but the darker figure, the male of the pair, glanced to the side and flung a hand in his direction. Light, or maybe lightning, flashed, and Gecko tumbled off the wall into a pile of old furniture, small tables and kitchen-type chairs and low shelving units, that presumably was waiting to be picked up.

“Hey, guess what?” the dark young man said. “Electrostatic energy disrupts van der Waal’s force. Be smart and stay down, lizard-boy.”

That one had short dark hair that was shaved at the back and a lean build; those pants and boots and the open-fronted vest had a dull gleam like rubber. That latter showed off his chest, both a fair amount of muscle to match his arms and a black tattoo: a lightning bolt in a triangle with the words DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE! above and below it.

The woman beside him had long pale hair and was wearing what might be white tights with a sort of tunic or something all of metal scales that shimmered with rainbow anodized colour even in this lighting, with wide metal cuffs around her bare lower arms.

The only thing they had in common physically was that each was wearing a collar of rolled metal with a dangling ring at the front, that same rainbow metal.

“We’ll handle these two, hon,” the woman said to Carnal, beckoning to her. Torn between caution and relief, Carnal made her way in that direction, though not without wary looks behind her at Tecton. Worse was getting closer to Gecko, who was groaning and moving like he might be trying to find his feet. “You have fans waiting for wherever you’re planning to appear next. Aside from us, that is. Come on. This pair won’t be following you.”

“They’re not classy enough for you, gorgeous,” her male companion said cheerfully. “You deserve better. I’m sure we’ll see you around. Ah ah, Tecton, I see those gauntlets get any closer to each other or one foot come off the ground and I’ll remind you what some serious voltage through metal armour feels like.”

“Insulation,” Tecton said mockingly, raising both hands, fists towards each other and a foot apart.

That elicited only a melodramatic sigh. “Fine, make me work for it.”

The pale woman ushered Carnal back towards the main street. “They just got lucky, they don’t know how to track you any better than your fans do. Off you go, and don’t worry about them.”

Just as she stepped back into the brighter lights, Carnal heard Tecton bellow in rage; she snuck a glance behind her, and got a glimpse of the highly-unlikely sight of the big armoured figure apparently glued to an even bigger metal dumpster, struggling to separate himself from it, while the dark young man with the voltage tattoo stood in front of him with both hands raised to shoulder height, fingers spread and wiggling rapidly as his hands twisted back and forth. Tecton couldn’t get his hands free to slam them together and generate his trademark shockwave.

And, as Gecko dragged himself out of the wreckage of the chairs and tables, the pale woman strode over to him, right arm lifted but hand flexed down out of the way like she was… maybe aiming down the length of the wide metal band circling her lower arm?

It didn’t matter. She’d stayed here too long already, caught flatfooted by the attack and the rescue. She fled at the fastest, limping walk she could, with her right leg protesting every step. When she reached a streetcar stop, she looked back and spotted one coming; she stayed there and fidgeted until it got to her, then collapsed into one of the seats as it took her farther from the confrontation more rapidly than her feet could alone.

She wasn’t at all angry at Arable, then the newest of the growing number of environmentally-protective so-called supervillains. Arable’s affinity was with domesticated food-bearing plants and trees, largely in making them grow with supernatural speed and abundance; they weren’t exactly an eco-terrorist. They couldn’t be blamed that, in an effort to stop them once and for all, the League had been willing to sacrifice entire buildings. Occupied buildings. Arable had been crying in the footage as they were led away in restraints, and their gaze kept going back to the collapsed buildings. They hadn’t stayed in custody for all that long; they’d reappeared on the news only a few weeks later, and the League had only muttered something about supervillain allies.

Confrontations between supers, even with the best intentions, had collateral damage. She hoped desperately that there was none over her.

The friendly pair seemed vaguely familiar from somewhere, but she couldn’t place them. Probably someone who spent more time actively following the adventures of the local and global supers could do so. There was a website that would allow you to enter any details you had about a super sighting and it would suggest matching possibilities, and she might do that later, but right now… she was close to the nightclub where that friendly band was playing, and there were several visible options for something to eat, so it was time to hop off the streetcar and get on with her planned evening. The knee of her pants hadn’t ripped but it was soiled, and by the time she got that cleaned up, her leg would almost certainly be able to hold her weight, although she could try to be careful with it. It would still hurt, even though she should be able to find a place to buy basic pain meds, but so what? She could ignore that long enough to give them a proper performance: it was nothing compared to over a year of that monster in her lower back.

With any luck, the pale woman had been right and the League was no closer than they had been. She just needed to dodge them for another day without losing her momentum.

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