Absolute Comics: The Vixen, Issue 1: Once Upon A Dakota Night
Location: Liberty Street, Dakota City
"I'm talking to a spider."
"Not just any spider kiddo," The spider sitting on her shoulder replied in a low whisper, his voice heavy with barely contained laughter. She'd missed the joke.
"Clearly," Mari irreverently mused as she pondered what form of fatal psychosis she was currently suffering from. Holding her hands in front of her, she stared with wonder at the claws that had replaced her finger nails. She was no psychiatrist, but she was fairly certain you had to be all kinds of crazy to think that you had razor-sharp, feline claws. Talking spiders were a whole other ballgame, but one she didn't want to think about at the moment. The spider, Mr. Nancy, as he called himself, had promised her that she could definitely, probably, cut through steel with her claws. Provided she hit hard enough. As long as she believed. The souped up reflexes that made her feel like she'd just ingested an ungodly amount of Speed were supposed to help. At least in theory. Mari hated the pompous spider already. At least some of the time. She had to admit the cat eyes were pretty cool, she'd always wanted to be able to see in the dark.
"Check yourself, before you wreck yourself, Mari," Nancy teased. "I'm the one that is going to help you make something of yourself. Oh, the chance that I have given you! The power, the unlimited power! You owe me. Be grateful!"
"I don't owe you shit, bug eyes. You're the one that got me into this mess. You're the one who's going to get me killed." Mari hissed back, fidgeting with the metallic lighter that she kept tucked in the back pocket of her jeans. She'd quit smoking, usually, mostly, maybe. But the lighter mattered, it meant something. It reminded her of Sarah. It kept her focused. It kept her mad. It kept her claws sharp and her teeth ready.
Hiding in the dark, she had flattened herself against the wall of the alley. She'd fought off the urge to throw up several times already and she was worried that the skateboard she had carefully hidden behind a mountain of garbage cans might have become a bio-hazard. The smell of several weeks worth of rotting garbage burned her eyes and a puddle of ominous fluid threatened her shoes. Someone had forgotten to bribe the local trash racket. It was a personal tragedy for Mari, given her temporarily enhanced sense of smell. Mr. Nancy had called it a minor problem, a side effect of her inability to fully control her abilities. He'd told her that he expected her to do better next time. He'd alluded to bear claws, shark teeth, and wings. Mari had no idea what he meant. But it felt impossible to refuse him or to shut him out. The spider had a way with words and there was a strange power in the stories that he told her. She could almost feel the webs that he wove in the shadows and the silk strings that pulled at her limbs.
"I can't have my chosen servant wasting her powers. You've got to prove yourself worthy of my gifts. You have to earn my advice."
"You want me to prove myself? To a spider? Couldn't you just have asked me to catch a fly? That seems like something a spider would want to see."
"I'm not a spider. I shouldn't have to keep telling you that. Besides, I have bigger, juicier prey in mind for you, my young friend."
"Did you forget the part where drug dealers have guns, lots of guns?"
"You want help? Then let me tell you a story-"
Mari groaned, wishing for a swift death. It had only been a month, but she was already tired of the chatty spider and what he saw as valuable advice.
"Once upon a time in Gotham, a man, a man far more mundane than you, dressed up like a bat, a giant bat, and fought crime one punch at a time as a nocturnal detective. Now how is that for a story?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever you say Nancy," Mari replied with an unapologetic roll of her eyes. She was glad the ski mask she had brought still permitted her some level of expression. "Next you're going to tell me that's there's a long-lost civilization in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."
"Well, now that you mention it..."
"Nancy, just tell me what you want."
"I want you to do the right thing."
"You want me to punch a drug dealer in his stupid face?"
"I want you to punch several drug dealers in their stupid faces."
"Hey Nancy," Mari said flicking the metallic lighter shut in a swift motion.
"That's the spirit, Mari. Channel that rage. Now go! There's your chance! Your only chance!" Nancy shouted as the street lights flickered, then suddenly died along with power to the rest of the city block.
Stalking through the pitch black apartment, Mari did her best not to think of the fresh blood that coated her claws. She fought to control her ragged breathing, desperately sucking in gasps of air like a fish plucked out of the water. Barrels of industrial grade chemicals surround her and a faint smell of ammonia seeped through the battered blue plastic. Nancy had said it would be easy. He'd called it a test run. She tried not to think about the kid she'd left tied up in the alley. She tried not to think of how easily she'd cut him with her claws. She tried not to think of how easily he'd bled. She tried not to think.
"Nancy, can you hear me?" Mari whispered. Her hands ran idly over the Molotov Cocktail she'd liberated from the kid. She wasn't an arsonist, but a little bit of property damage for the great good never hurt anybody. She'd saved the smokes for later. They were tucked safely in her jacket. She would need them. After it was all over. She'd make an exception. Just once, just for the night. A reward was in order.
She felt the hairs on her neck rising. She felt afraid. Something was wrong. She saw the wires then. The red light blinking impassively at her. Drug dealers didn't have silent alarms. They didn't have infrared cameras.
"Of course I can hear you."
"I fucking told you this was a bad idea." Mari gestured angrily at the window she'd so carefully pried open. "And that, that was a fucking alarm."
"Yes, you should have been more careful.
"I- I should have been more careful? Listen to me...wait," Mari said as her eyes widened with panic. "This isn't meth."
"No, it's not."
Mari did not need to turn to look at the spider to know that he was smiling, "Then what is?"
"I'm not sure, not yet. It's something new. It's something clever. Something very clever. It's something very interesting. It's tied to this "Big Bang" the locals keep on yammering about."
Thundering steps, that seemed to shake the foundation of the building itself interrupted Mari's anger,"What the fuck was that?"
"That's the cavalry."
"Their cavalry. I told you not to waste time. You don't have very much of it."
Mari hugged the ground and watched as a rusted boiler sailed past where her head had been.
"What the fuck did you do?"
"I told you, baby, I'm shipping you straight up to the big leagues. No more amateur hour."
Mari could hear the spider laughing as threw herself to the side. Too slowly. Much too slowly. The concrete hand that cracked the side of her chest was a surprise for both of them, and for once, the spider was silent. Mari was not thinking when she dug a clawed hand into the floor. The socket of her shoulder screamed with pain and she tumbled, but it kept her in the game and it kept her alive. Regaining her balance, Mari caught herself in a low crouch. Rolling to the side, she caught a glancing blow to her jaw, sending her hurtling to the ground again.
"Get up. Run. Now!" the trickster commanded as a panel of drywall next to her exploded into a fine cloud of gypsum and rotting wood.
Spitting out blood and flecks of faded paint in equal measure, Mari let out a low, pained groan. A figure walked towards her in the darkness. Unaffected by the shadows, it crashed forward, shaking the crumbling floor with each step. Uncaring and unmoved, it stopped in front of her. An inhuman creature of cement and blackened asphalt, it towered over her with a fist raised menacingly over its head. Pausing, it flashed a smile of fractured stone in Mari's direction. She couldn't tell what it was saying. She didn't care, not really. Whatever it was saying, it sounded foreign, it sounded strange. She could tell it was gloating. It was laughing at her. It was taunting her. It was mocking her.
She felt angry. She felt her lips moving back to bare freshly sharpened teeth. It wasn't ready. It didn't think that the cornered animal still had fight left in it. She returned the favor, launching herself to her feet, raking the claws of her right hand across its face. She darted out of the way of the blind, furious strikes that followed, slipping beneath the thick arms of stone that chased her. Dancing out of range, Mari risked a glance at her claws and frowned. There wasn't any blood, just a sticky, black tar that burned her claws with irritation.
Dodging a blow that would have caved her head in, Mari struck again, sending sparks into the darkness as she buried her claws into the chest of the monster. Flailing the creature sent her tumbling into a row of plastic barrels with a distracted punch.
Rocking to her feed, Mari grinned. She could hear the mass of concrete roaring in pain. She could sense the growing weakness of her prey. She could feel the adrenaline coursing through her veins. She felt alive. She felt so alive. She could taste blood. And it felt good, so good.
"Angry is good, angry gets shit done," Nancy said. "But you don't have time to play with your food. Not anymore. Finish this."
Mari heard a door slam open and boots, heavy boots racing up the stairs. At least a dozen pairs. Too many. Far too many. She could smell the cordite. She could hear the shouted orders.
"Let the motherfucker burn," Nancy cackled, pointing a hairy limb the direction at the cloth wicked bottle full of gasoline.
Cutting into a barrel, Mari tossed it at the creature, dowsing the monster in chemicals as it smashed the weakened plastic. It roared in frustration, trying to wipe off the volatile chemicals that had begun to fizzle against its skin, filling the room with putrid smoke. Coughing, Mari rolled to the side and stayed low to the ground, shifting forward on all fours.
"Let...the...motherfucker...burn," Mari echoed as the lighter appeared in her hand. Opening it with a flick of her wrist, she held it against the soaked rag of petrol, and spun the wheel, summoning a flame of fire. Watching the rag ignite, Mari smiled, and then tossed the improvised incendiary device towards the creature.
The bottle shattered in an explosion of glass and fire. Flames enveloped the monstrous figure as it howled in rage and threw itself violently across the small room, crashing into a wall as it tried to extinguish the flames that climbed over it. Thrashing its limbs with growing desperation, the creature lurched madly, painfully forward, trying to catch the young vigilante in its burning arms.
Mari could hear it roar as she threw herself out the window and rolled onto the fire escape. She panicked and stumbled on twisted metal. Losing her footing, Mari crashed against the rusted railing. Crying out in pain, Mari slumped forward, clutching her battered side with a loud sob. Thick tendrils of black smoke poured out of the room and Mari dragged herself forward, struggling to breath as she descended. She could feel the overpowering heat chasing after her. She knew there was no time. The blaze was growing by the second, and she wasn't sure how long before it reached the barrels of chemicals.
Mari hit the ground hard and managed a graceful fall against the wall of the building. Heaving, she retched, feeling the smoke tearing at her lungs with each breath. Grabbing the skateboard from where she had left it, Mari began to limp away.
"Mission accomplished," Nancy cheerfully exclaimed, once more perched on her shoulder. "But next time, try not to get so banged up."
Mari turned to glare at him, wordlessly pulling the ski mask off her face and tossing it into the fire. Leaving the burning brownstone behind them, the pair faded quietly into the night.
"What happened here, Miss Johnson?"
"Fell," Mari replied motionlessly, gesturing at the battered skateboard propped in a chair next to her. "Fucked up. Lost my balance. Ate some asphalt. Cried. You know, a standard day in the life of a professional adventurer."
"Right, and the smoke inhalation?"
"So I had a smoke, fucking sue me, Doc. It's a free country."
"Um, that's not what I meant, it seems like-"
"Yeah, well just drop it. I'm paying you by the minute and no one is riding your ass about that Egg McMuffin you had for breakfast, now are they?"
"Uh, right, sure," the young doctor said with a desperate smile. He ran a hand nervously through his hair and shifted his attention to the x-ray image next to him, "Well, either way, you got very lucky, Miss Johnson. You only managed to bruise a couple of ribs. Hurts like the Dickens, but there's really not much to be done about it. However, I'd advise you to take it easy for a couple of days. No late night skating sessions or BBQs," he added with a grating chuckle that left Mari shaking her head.
Doc," Mari began, sliding off of the examination table and slipping her t-shirt back on.
"Painkillers, just give me some fucking painkillers, and send me on my merry-fucking way."
"This is Christina Martinez with Dakota 7 Eyewitness News reporting live at 757 Liberty Street, where last night, a historic brownstone burned down in a freak fire that is believed to have started as a result of faulty electrical wiring undertaken as part of recently begun renovations intended to restore the so-called Blackthorn residence to its former glory... Deputy Fire Commissioner Thomas Campbell has said that a full investigation will be conducted...No fatalities occurred as a result of the fire, but several injuries were reported..."