Burnout’s fists kept clenching and unclenching as they descended into the tunnel. His heartbeat started growing louder and louder until he was sure they could hear it at the far end of the tunnels. His mouth tasted like sand and his stomach kept trying to climb up his throat.
The group marched on in front of him, following Mach. He had offered to go first, to light the way, but the others pointed out that it would be too easy to them coming. Mach’s visor had shifted until it glowed a dim green, and she had a small light on her back, just bright enough for them to see.
It wasn’t enough. Even if he couldn’t see the walls, he could feel them, just out of reach. They were everywhere, and if they started to collapse then there was nowhere they could run fast enough to escape.
Every shifting rock, every bone-chilling breeze, every distant echo made him surer that he was going to die down here. Even if he could burn hot enough to melt rock, he would just drown in what was left. There wasn’t a way out, not for him, not for any of them.
The light in front of him turned a corner, and for a moment the darkness ruled. It was almost comforting, without the light there was no hope, his death in the tunnels was assured. But when he turned the corner, and saw the light again. That accursed hope that he might make it out after all came back, and the fear seemed that much stronger.
It would help if they would talk, if anyone would talk, but he knew they couldn’t. The sound would travel, and there wasn’t anything important enough to say. They couldn’t be heard, if their target ran then they would never find them. It was only the tracks from their cart, barely visible even with Mach magnifying them, that gave the group the smallest hope of finding them. If they started moving faster, gave the cart less time to dig into the ground, they would lose them, and themselves, in these tunnels.
Somewhere in the back of his head, he was trying to keep track of the turns, trying to remember the way back to the surface, but there had been too many, and the tunnel was too dark. He had already forgotten, or maybe he never wanted to remember. It would just be another meaningless gesture, a sad attempt to bring hope into a hopeless situation.
A slow creaking made its way to his ear. That was the cart, he supposed. Or maybe it was the foundation of a building finally giving up and bringing its burden down upon their heads. Either way would suffice. Either way this accursed journey would end and he could escape this oppression.
A voice echoed off the walls, but he couldn’t make out the words. The light on Mach’s back blinked twice, the signal to stop.
One more blink and Burnout heard Unimportant approach the front of the group. As he moved forward, the sound of his steps faded far faster than they should have. For a moment, he saw the tunnel light up, but in an instant it was as if the light had never existed.
Unimportant let himself shift farther and farther out of this reality. After a moment he allowed himself to whistle quietly. It was a habit he had picked up soon after getting his powers. It assured him that he was still there, even if no one else could tell.
The tunnel in front of him was bathed in the soft glow of his flashlight. Mach said their target had to be within a few hundred feet, but he had to stop at every fork, listening for the quiet creak of the cart’s wheels.
He was getting closer, he could hear the creak constantly now, overlapping with the too high notes of his whistling. In a turn, or maybe two, he would be able to see them. Then he’d have to hurry back. He had learned once tonight that his powers could fail, or rather, that he could fail to use them properly. It wasn’t an experience he would like to repeat.
The creaking was even louder now. And with it came the voices. They were trying to be quiet, but their excitement was winning out. Each turn of the wheel brought them closer to freedom. Each step they didn’t hear another voice meant was a sign they would never get caught.
He could see them now, following a man whose large arms made the rest of him look even skinnier. A small light hung on the top of the cart illuminated the tunnel in front of him, but a bandage wrapped around the leader’s head suggested he didn’t need it.
“How much farther do we gotta push this thing?” one of the men working the cart asked.
“Soon.” The leader’s voice was deep and gravelly. “We’re out from under the block, we’ll cross the street in the next hundred yards.”
“I don’t get why we couldn’t dig straight under the street.”
“Physics.” The leader took a breath and began to lecture on the finer points of tunnel digging.
The men pushing the cart groaned in unison. Apparently they’d heard this one before.
Unimportant took another step forward and the leader paused. He instantly let his power run even stronger. He didn’t know what the man in the lead could do, but he didn’t want to risk it.
Whoever this man was, he was rich enough to pay off Asclepios for a night of terror. Whatever he had stolen from the officer building, he thought it was worth setting off a riot over a third of downtown. He was not someone they wanted to lose the only real advantage they had against.
Unimportant didn’t force his power back down until he had already reached the group. He gathered them all as close as he could and spoke in the lowest whisper he could manage.
“There are five of them pushing the cart… They shouldn’t be a problem… Their leader is a walker… but I’m not sure what kind… He nearly realized I was there…My guess is he’s a tel…I’ve never been sure how well I was shielded from mind readers.”
“If he is a tel, then you are the only one who could get close enough to really surprise him,” Mach said.
“Really, no gizmo for blocking tel’s?” Allspades asked. “You’re suit has everything else.”
“No, I’ve just been lucky,” Mach said.
“No time!” Hawthorne cut in sharply, but still quietly. “Time to plan.”
“He didn’t detect me until I was close…and he hasn’t noticed us yet… I have no way of being sure… but I think we could get about halfway there before he noticed you.”
“I could run up-up. If we were close enough maybe I could get him before he warned the others-ers.”
“No,” Hawthorne said. “We’ve put you in danger enough today.”
“I believe you or Burnout would be the best option then,” Mach said.
“Not her,” Allspades said.
Hawthorne glared at him, not that he could see it.
“You don’t seem that great at controlling something you can’t see, and if you dug into a wall you could disturb the tunnel.”
“And how would you know?”
“I had to learn how to fight walkers on the spot a lot. Figuring stuff like that out became habit.”
“Burnout then,” Unimportant tried to force them back on topic.
Burnout felt his heart jump. He wasn’t sure if he could concentrate enough to control the flames. But he couldn’t tell them that, not now. He felt the eyes of the group focus on him through the darkness. He nodded.
Mason marched on silently. He knew that the men behind him had no interest in the fine art of tunnel digging, and he knew better than to waste his words on the unartistic.
And this tunnel was art. An entire maze built beneath a city block in downtown Macropolis, with none the wiser. Sure the buildings began to seep down once he opened the tunnel on the other side, but until then no one was any wiser.
It was unfortunate that he wouldn’t be able to use it anymore, weeks of work for a single night of use. It didn’t seem worthy of his artistic touch. But he had been promised a hefty sum for his work, and assured a distraction that would last the night. It all balanced out in the end.
Just one more turn and they would reach the final stretch. He allowed himself a small moment of relaxation. The warm breeze helped.
He stopped. There shouldn’t be a breeze in his tunnel. “Move!”
The men pushing the cart looked at him in confusion. He growled and jumped over the cart.
Mason reached into the ground at his feet and pulled. A wall of rock rose in front of him. It wasn’t quite big enough though.
The blue flames hit the wall of earth and began to seep around the edges, searing the men on either side of the cart.
Mason didn’t wait to see who was attacking. He hurriedly began to shove the new wall into the edges of the tunnel, sealing it off.
He turned and grabbed the cart himself. “Keep up or get caught,” he barked.
Mason shoved the cart in front of him, one they reached the end of the tunnel he could collapse it upon their pursuers.
He had been buried alive once. It wasn’t pleasant.
The group spotted the wall ahead of them, and Allspades let out a quiet curse.
“Out of the way!”
He charged ahead of the group and lowered his shoulder. The wall crumbled in front of him.
He didn’t pay much attention to the two men on the ground, they were already down.
A sense of vertigo washed over the group as Red Racer charged ahead.
“Wait!” Hawthorne called out, but it was too late.
Red felt a rush of excitement as he began to run on the wall and then the ceiling of the tunnel. He passed above the thieves, planning on cutting them off before they could reach the exit.
The one pushing the cart grunted and shoved his fist into the tunnel wall.
The tunnel in front of Red began to grow smaller. He tried to avoid the new ledge but it was too late. With a startled cry, his feet left the roof of the tunnel and he felt himself flying forward. He hit the ground with a painful thud and skidded to a stop.
“Hey you got ‘im boss.”
“No. There are more. Keep moving”
The thieves turned and saw the rest of the group running up to them. They immediately began to run for the exit.
Red saw them running too him, and realized there was no way for him to stop them anymore. He ran out the exit ahead of them and began to pick up speed.
“Let’s see him try that trick in the open-en.”
Mason turned the moment he reached the end of the tunnel and began to pull it closed.
A thick branch extended through the open tunnel and hit Mason square on the forehead. The force pushed him off his feet and away from the tunnel’s exit.
The other thieves stared at their downed boss, rubbing his forehead as he stood back up, before looking back at the tunnel.
They missed the red and white blue coming in from their left, knocking one of them off their feet.
The two who kept their footing backed away from their downed allies.
Allspades was already there, with a smile growing on his face. He picked them up off their feet, one with each arm, and slammed them together. Not too hard, but hard enough to knock them out.
Mach approached the third, and shot him once in the chest with a tranq dart.
Mason felt all of this and immediately moved for the cart. He triumphantly grabbed it and began to drag it behind him, only to stumble over the unexpectedly light load.
He felt back, the cart’s contents had been neatly stacked near the tunnel entrance, a good three feet from the cart.
“What-” He began to ask when a wooden staff slammed into the side of his head and knocked him unconscious.
Mason woke up. The first thing he noticed was the pile of men unceremoniously dumped on top of each other. The second was that his hands had been tied around a light post, and he had been forced to stay on his feet.
“I noticed you needed your hands to pull off that earth moving you were doing earlier,” Allspades said. “Figured this would keep you from getting loose.”
“Very well,” Mason said. “You have captured me. I suppose we wait for the police now.”
“Not quite….we have a few questions first.”
Mason jumped at the sound of the voice, that voice that was coming from nowhere.
“Why did you hire Asclepios…? You don’t seem well enough off to afford such a distraction.”
“Asclepios?” Mason asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was hired by an anonymous donor to grab those-” He nodded to the crates. “chips. He said the cops wouldn’t bug me and paid me a lot. I don’t know anything about a drug dealer.”
“I think he’s lying,” Allspades said.
“He’s not,” a new voice joined in.
The group turned to see Will walking across the street.
“When did you get here?!” Hawthorne asked.
“Mason here’s a prowler that’s been in and out of jail for the last 5 years. He doesn’t have the money to buy a handful of Asclepios’s drugs, let alone his services.”
“Good to know I’m recognized. I’d just like to know by who.”
“I’m sure you would Mason,” Will said. “But I think they want to know who hired you more.”
“Wouldn’t tell if I knew. Honor among thieves and all that.”
Unimportant grabbed the thief’s collar and pulled him forwards. “Bullshit… You aren’t stupid enough to do a job without knowing where the money’s coming from. No one does a job if they can’t be sure they’re getting paid.”
Mason shrugged. “Already was. Got the last of it yesterday. Anonymous drop and all that. Tunnel was already built, wouldn’t do me any good to back out then.”
Unimportant glared into the bandages a moment longer before shoving him back into the light post. “Dammit.”
Will clasped a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t give up yet. The cops’ll trace the money.”
A group of flashing lights approached and the group turned to see three squad cars pulling up.
“Let them handle it from here,” Will said.
The group began to walk away, but Red Racer looked back and forth between the approaching cops and the retreating walkers.
“Wait-ait, that’s it-it? We’re giving up just like that-at?”
Will shrugged. “It’s how the world works kid, sometimes you can’t find the trail that easily. The cops are better suited for this part anyway. If it’s something they can’t handle, they’ll call in someone who can.”
“But it won’t be us-us.”
“But we’ve done everything-ing. We found out about the drug-ug, we tracked down one of the bombs-bs, we found the robbers-ers. What’s the point if we give up now-ow?”
Will smiled. “You’ve done more tonight than anyone would’ve expected, kid.”
“But we don’t know who released the drugs-ugs.”
“We uncovered an entire factory of the stuff,” Unimportant said, fading more and more into reality as they left the cops behind. “We may have stopped it from hitting the streets completely.”
“We warned the city that something was going to happen,” Hawthorne said, twirling her staff back into pocket size. “Half the heroes in town were prepared because we warned them.”
“We managed to stop an entire stadium from going insane,” Mach said, her visor began cycling back to normal.
“We stopped that guy from stealing a couple million’s worth of computer chips,” Burnout said. He lifted his now dirt-covered goggles to the top of his head.
“We got to piss off whoever put this shit into motion,” Allspades said. “That feels pretty good to me.”
Will nodded. “Take the small victories, kid. The big ones can wait ‘til you’re ready for them.”
Red Racer thought about it for a moment. “I guess-ess. It just feels wrong to leave it like this-is.”
“And that won’t go away,” Will said. “The question is, was it worth it?”
Will looked back. Red Racer stared at him, then his lips curled into a smile. “Yeah. I guess it was.”