She tossed her fringe out of her face, annoyance on her features and a white-knuckled grip on the guitar cases at her sides. The backpack-wearing young man behind her met the door with one bony shoulder as it swung back towards him, a metal attaché tucked under one arm and a laptop bag cradled in the other.
“Well, my Dad did always say we’d be met with adversity.” He shrugged and kicked a longboard out into the alley after him. “Not the first time we’ve had a less-than-optimal gig and it probably won’t be the last.”
“Hecklers aren’t adversity, Tai, they’re a thorn in my goddamn side.”
“Yeah, well. I’m not about to disagree with Grumpy Henley.” Tai smiled and looked back over his shoulder, shaking dyed-orange locks from his eyes. “Where’s Wen gone off to?”
“I’m here, I’m here.” A red-haired girl appeared in the doorway, struggling with a pair of enormous black road cases, each half her height. “Sorry, had to go talk to club management. What a nightmare.”
“I hope the conversation included the phrase ‘permabanned’.” Tai kneed one of the cases out into the alleyway as Wen rolled it towards him.
“Not exactly, but I did have one security guard try to shrug me off when I suggested he could have done something about it. Even told him I could pick their faces out of the crowd, but nope.”
“Wow, screw that guy.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
“Great! Nothing like a bad mood to cap off a bad night.” Henley rolled her eyes and set her guitar cases down, gesturing to her friends impatiently. “Here, swap you guys. Give me the amps.”
Wen and Tai pushed the black cases towards Henley, who grabbed one in each hand and began to haul them out of the alley with great vehemence, skinny arms belying the strength with which she pulled the massive instruments. Tai stepped onto his longboard and pushed off after her, followed closely by Wen, who picked up the guitar cases as she passed them.
Led by Henley, the three of them rounded the corner out into the open and away from the central district, continuing down a poorly lit stretch of backstreet. Footsteps aside, they walked in relative quiet, their only accompaniment being the low, heavy rumbling of the road cases and the wheels of Tai’s longboard. The muffled ruckus of the club behind them tailed them as they went, an almost mocking reminder of the scene they had just departed.
“Couldn’t have parked a little closer, huh, Tai?” Wen remarked drily, after a few minutes of silence. “Any further and a Hawk couldn’t see it.”
Even in Henley’s sour mood she was still able to let out a peal of laughter.
“Ha-ha, big yucks.” Tai rolled his eyes. “Tell you what, next time you guys can get your own cars and find your own damn parking, okay?”
“Yeah right, in this economy?”
“Get an Uber then, I don’t care. Anyway, at least the walk’ll give Henley a chance to cool off. Don’t say I’m not good for nothing.”
Wen glanced back down the street and frowned.
“I don’t know about that one, friend.”
Tai followed Wen’s gaze, but could see nothing but shadows ahead. He looked at the red-haired girl questioningly but she only shook her head.
“Hey, Ax,” she called. “On your one o’clock.”
Henley’s abrupt stop was as short as her temper, the rattling of the road cases cutting off sharply.
“Oh for the love of – what now!” Henley cried, whirling around to face her friends. “I am not in the mood for this tonight!”
As Wen and Tai came to stand by Henley, the former leaned in to speak to her in hushed tones.
Henley tossed her head again, this time in contempt, and snorted audibly.
“Well, bully for him! What does he want me to do about it?”
“Shake in our shoes and hand over our gear, probably. That or he'll shank us with it.” Tai made a face. “Guess I should’ve parked closer after all.”
“No kidding, genius.”
“You know what – forget this,” Henley scoffed. “It’s late, I’m hungry, and I’m not dicking around tonight any more than I have to.”
She turned on her heel and resumed her pace, more furious than ever, road cases in tow and the click of her low-heeled boots echoing her indignation. Tai elbowed Wen hard, gesturing wildly at Henley; Wen gave him a flustered look and a frenzied shrug in response.
“What do you want me to do about it?” she hissed at him.
“She’s your girlfriend, go stop her before she breaks something!”
“And go head to head with Grumpy Henley? Not bloody likely.”
Cursing under his breath, Tai quickly let down his bags at Wen’s feet and pushed off on his longboard to follow their bandleader.
Ahead of Henley, a group of men emerged from the shadows of a nearby building to stand in the street before her. There were four of them, all tall, rough and intimidating – and exactly the kind of people that Henley was not in the mood to deal with tonight.
Henley sighed impatiently and rolled her eyes, but continued walking forwards without falter, even when one of them flicked open the switchblade in his hand and started towards her.
“Alright,” Henley growled as she drew closer. “Let’s get this over with.”
And with that, she swung the case in her left hand up into the first man’s face.
The massive case with its heavy freight connected with a crack and the knife-wielding man was thrown sideways and hit the ground hard, his knife skittering across the street and blood spraying over the asphalt. The moment their compatriot went down the other men shouted and stepped back instinctively, not even sure entirely of what had just happened. Henley followed the momentum of the black case as it carried her around a half turn, lowering the enormous box to the ground in a smooth arc as she came to a stop.
She looked back over her shoulder, eyes flashing green, and a mocking smile crept onto her face.
Disbelief and confusion buzzed in the air, but it was only a moment before the shouting started and two more of the men lunged at Henley with their arms outstretched, the fourth diving for the knife that their leader had dropped.
Mocking smile gone, Henley moved as if to swing again, but before she could a blue and brown blur came shooting past her; suddenly the tail of Tai’s Loaded Dervish was embedded in the second man’s gut, the longboard driving the wind from his lungs and acquainting the back of his head with the road. A second later came Tai himself, skidding across the concrete past Henley and jumping to pivot into a high kick that slammed the third man square in the chest with a sharp, electric zap and the briefest blue spark of static electricity. There was the sudden smell of something burning, and the third man went down with a strangled howl, a curl of black smoke trailing from the front of his shirt.
Tai landed effortlessly in a crouch on the ground and glanced up at Henley in alarm.
“Watch the amps, will you!” he spluttered. “My Dad’ll kill me if you break ‘em!”
Henley glowered at him.
“I thought you said you paid them off already!”
“Six, on your nine!”
Tai responded instantly to Wen’s warning, straightening from his landing and twisting out of the way just in time to dodge the fourth man as he dove towards him with his comrade’s knife outstretched. As the man stumbled instead towards Henley, she yanked the case at her side up before her and the man struck the makeshift shield and rebounded, knife glancing off the case’s hard surface and pinging harmlessly away. Drawing back her arm, Henley swung the case back towards the man, backhanding him across the face with the solid box and slamming him into the concrete where he bubbled blood and then slumped still.
Henley turned to regard their downed would-be muggers, neither having broken a sweat in the skirmish nor looking at all as if she’d just been swinging half her weight in amps around. Glancing at the street around them, she drew herself up tall and glared at their dimly lit surroundings.
“Next person to try pull that noise gets a punch in the teeth!” she barked at the shadows.
Tai tucked his longboard under one arm and came to crouch down at Henley’s side, running his hands over the road cases.
“There, there,” he said reassuringly. “Everything's fine. No one’s giving you any flack now.”
“Not anymore, they’re not,” Henley grumbled.
Tai looked up at his friend with narrowed eyes.
“I wasn’t talking to you, you barbarian.”
“Hey, Tai,” Wen called, walking up the street towards her bandmates. “Come get your gear, you ass. I’m not a bloody octopus.”
“Yeah, alright, I’m coming.”
As Tai jogged back to retrieve his bags, Wen drew up beside Henley and looked at her in a fond but almost admonishing kind of way.
“You probably could have just ignored them and left it to Kinetic, you know,” she chided gently. “I heard rumours he’s out tonight. He could’ve dispatched this lot for you, saved you the hassle.”
Henley scoffed, lifting the road cases to briefly check for marks.
“Yeah, right,” she replied. “Like I’m going to count on a Vig that good. I wouldn’t trust that guy as far as I could throw him.”
“Well, to be honest – ”
“Don’t say it. You know what I mean.”
“I know, I know. I’m just joshing.”
She leaned in to give Henley a peck on the cheek and the dark-haired girl gave her partner a wry smile.
"Who needs some Kinetic anyway, when I have Hawk-eyed Branwen Archer by my side?"
"You got that right."
There was the gentle rolling of wheels and Tai pulled up along Wen's other side, loaded with bags once more, and gave his bandmates an easy grin.
“Only waiting on you, superstar," Wen replied lightly. "Come on. Let's try make it home before one."
Her friends once more by her side, Henley cast one last look at the men scattered unconscious on the ground by their feet, and shook her head.
“Hecklers,” she muttered. “Thorn in my goddamn side."
Henley – The Ability to lift great weights with ease (Alias Axle)
Tai – The Ability to generate large amounts of static electricity (Alias Six)
Branwen – The Ability of passerine-like eyesight (Alias Hawk)