Month: February 2016

Chapter 86: Seeking

Unimportant gently tossed his backpack over the side before he rolled off the back of the patrolling car. Even as slow as it was going, he could feel the denim on his jacket ripping as he bounced on the street behind it.

He tried to stand up and nearly collapsed when he tried to lift himself with his left arm. He sat on the street and gently prodded it; it wasn’t broken, but he wouldn’t be using it for much today. Almost as bad, the shoulder of his new jacket was hanging by a threat, and there was no way his mother would believe he hadn’t done it on purpose.

He sighed and used his good arm to get to his feet. He’d been a hero for nearly a year now, and this was the first time he regretted not having his own car.

He did his best to ignore the gunshots. As badly as he wanted to help, there were better heroes to handle guns. Even Red Racer would be better in a firefight than him. No one else had been able to overhear the invader’s next target.

This Trump, as the mercenaries called him, was apparently on his way to Beck Industries, and unless Unimportant ran into someone who could spread the message much faster than him, then he was the only one who could stop him.

He’d gotten off the Humvee as soon as they’d turned the wrong direction, but he was still at least five miles from the tower. He had a backpack full of tools he rarely needed, a bad shoulder, and he hadn’t had to run more than a mile in years.

Macropolis didn’t have the best chances.

Unimportant shook the thought from his head as he slung his bag over his right shoulder; only to immediately regret it as it swung full force into his left.

“score one for me,” he muttered.

Unimportant started jogging towards the tower.

A few Humvees passed him by on his way, but none of them were heading in the right direction. Each time he heard a motor, Unimportant loosened his grip on his power just enough to make sure they wouldn’t see him, and so none of them slowed.

It was around 45 minutes before he got there, and he was very nearly out of breath.

There were still a few empty Humvees parked outside the building, but if Trump hadn’t already gotten what he was here for, then Unimportant was extremely lucky.

He reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of bolt cutters. He walked up to the first Humvee and popped the hood. He didn’t know much about cars, but he had a good idea of what parts definitely needed all the wires and fluid lines going to them.

There were four cars, and that was another twenty minutes gone, but at least he might delay them on their way out.

He slipped his bolt cutters back into his bag and walked into the building.

The entrance to the first floor’s security office was nestled in an alcove behind the elevators that most people never would have noticed.

The door was unlocked. Unimportant opened the door slowly and adjusted his power to hide it. The unconscious guards had been piled in the back corner of the room. There was a single mercenary in the office; she was staring intently at the cameras set to watch the main and garage entrances, while the screen next to them held a nearly finished game of solitaire. On the screen above that, he could see a chart for the elevators. The tower was sixty stories tall with more subbasements than he was legally allowed to know about, and one of the elevators was apparently in subbasement 15.

Unimportant reached into his bag and pulled out a brown bottle and a dish rag. Using chloroform always left a bad taste in his mouth, but it was the most reliable way he had of knocking someone out. Before he left the office, he made sure to click out of her solitaire game.

One of the elevators had, thankfully, been left on the ground floor. He tried to press the button for the subbasement, but the elevator made an angry buzz and a red light flashed on the plain black pad above the buttons.

Unimportant hurried back to the security office and dug through the pile of guards. One of them still had his badge clipped to the front of his shirt and Unimportant snagged it.

The elevator took seconds to reach the subbasement. Unimportant bare had time to turn up his powers to keep any other mercenaries from noticing the ding and the opening doors.

The hall in front of him was empty, but he could hear footsteps around the corner.

He walked straight towards them, checking each room briefly to make sure that there weren’t any mercenaries inside.

But all of the mercenaries were focused on one room.

They stood in a ring around a raised platform. Two men stood on the stage, looking into a glass pillar at the center of the room. The taller of the two had jet black hair and lightly tanned skin. He stood with his back straight even with his hands resting on the guard rail. The second was short and built like bicycle; his round wiry glasses had slid down to the tip of his overly large nose and sweat glistened on the back of his neck.

Unimportant snuck inside. The two men were talking to each other urgently.

“What do you mean it’s already gone?” The taller one asked.

“Apparently, Beck had it moved into one of his zeppelins yesterday.”

“There are two dozen zeppelins floating above this city; by the time I get in a helicopter, you will know which one.” The entire room flexed with his words. He strode purposefully down the stairs and half the guards instantly turned to follow him.

Unimportant was torn. If the taller one really was Trump, then this might be his best chance of taking him down, but if he failed then the rest of the heroes still in the city would have no way of knowing where he was.

He looked at the short wiry man tapping angrily at the keyboard in front of him and made his decision. If he wanted to stop Trump for real, then he needed to find out what he really wanted.

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Chapter 85: Growing

The roots entwining her legs flexed and sprung forth, launching her down the street just before the street beneath her exploded once again. Her eyes were wide and she couldn’t remember the last time she blinked. She had yet to see the walker attacking her, but she couldn’t believe he could attack her so accurately without seeing her.

Hawthorne wished she could duck into one of the side alley, but the last time she had gotten too close, a store had lost one of its walls. She hoped no one was hurt, but she couldn’t stop to check.

She still hadn’t seen anyone else awake. She’d woken up at her desk to over a hundred pages of ks and the sky clear of rain. Everyone else in the building was asleep. At first she’d tried to wake them up, and it wasn’t until she’d heard the sound of gunfire from across that she realized just how far the attack must have spread.

Silently praying that they were only attacking people who were still awake, Hawthorne had grown her costume and leapt down to the streets.

A group of patrolling mercenaries had attacked her almost immediately. She was lucky to have been able to duck behind a building before the turret mounted on the back of their car had torn her to shreds, costume or not.

She’d taken care of them quickly; growing roots beneath their feet and crushing their weapons before trapping them, but they must have called for backup, because no sooner had she turned to find the source of the gunfire still echoing through the streets than the first explosion had knocked her through the window of her office building.

She’d been moving constantly for almost twenty minutes now. Even with her powers helping, the muscles in her legs had been stretched to their limits and beyond. Her breath had grown ragged, and her lungs burned when the chilled air hit them. She knew that if she didn’t find a way to rest soon, she’d either trip or collapse. And she still couldn’t find the source of the explosions.

As fast as she was going, and as far as she’d gone, whoever was targeting her had to be watching her somehow, and if he wasn’t keeping up with her then the range of his power was monstrous.

Her legs were screaming at her. She needed to stop, needed to think or a plan; if she didn’t’ have a plan then there was no way she’d ever be able to catch her attacker.

There was a bright patch on the side of the road a few leaps ahead. Her eyes widened as it slowly took the form of a body, a teenager who’d apparently fallen asleep on the street when the attack started.

Her plants moved so naturally and swiftly that she barely realized she was telling them what to do. They extended out from the right arm of her outfit into something sort of like a giant catcher’s mitt and sort of like a woven basket. As her strides brought Hawthorne close to him, the large appendage swept forth and scooped him off the ground.

As yet another explosion helped launch her forward, Hawthorne gently tossed the teen into the closest alley. And then the explosion carried her out of sight.

The appendage shriveled and withered and eventually fell off of her arm, leaving her to stare at her gloved hand in brief confusion before she had to take another leap.

Her power had never worked so seamlessly before. She’d always had to focus with nearly every ounce of willpower she had in order to get her plants to grow to the perfect size and have just the right traits to do what she needed. Even the spring roots at her feet required constant maintenance to not fall apart or grow out of control, even if the process had become almost automatic over the last few months.

And at that thought, the spring on her left foot launched just a little too slowly.

She couldn’t recall ever hearing the explosion, in spite of the damage it had done to her ears for the next few hours. Instead, she felt like an ocean wave had washed through and over her; simultaneously pushing her away and sliding through her insides to play dice with her organs.

She was barely conscious when she flew through the air, but she could see the brick wall rocketing towards her, growing larger by the moment until it stopped dead, just a hairs breath away from her nose.

Her costume had stretched out in front of her and caught her. She didn’t have time to be relieved before she tried to take a breath and had to gasp through the pain in her chest. She thought she heard her ribs crackling with each strangled breath.

She fell back onto the ground. If she’d had more air in her lungs, she would have screamed. Instead, what came out was barely a whimper.

She tried to push herself up off her back, but she immediately collapsed back to the ground. Fire flooded her mind and sparks danced behind her eyes. She knew she had to get up, but she couldn’t remember why. Her thoughts were trapped behind the flames and she couldn’t force her way through.

But one thought managed to pierce through.

‘I should already be dead.’

A semblance of clarity returned to her mind. Before the explosions had been seconds apart, following each step. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she hit the wall, but she was sure that the next blast was overdue.

He had always been right with her, never behind never before. If he wasn’t attacking her now, then it was because he thought she was dead, or because he didn’t want to kill her. If she didn’t move, then he wouldn’t attack again.

But even knowing that, she was trapped. She could either stay there until someone checked if she was still alive, or try to run and probably be killed instantly.

A Humvee rolled down the street towards her. She stayed perfectly still and waited. It was the best chance she had.

The car pulled to a stop beside her, and Hawthorne silently hoped she was right.

She let her power flow into the ground. Normally, she’d be micromanaging every root to make sure it would grow in just the right way, but with her mind still clouded, there was no time for her to do that. Instead, she loosened her grip on the plants and gave them a single instruction just as she heard a single pair of feet hit the ground outside the car.

Grow.

Trees began sprouting around her in every direction. These weren’t the thin viny trees she normally used to capture enemies. She had had time to make these trees nearly as wide as she was tall. The Humvee was flipped end over end and the mercenary coming to check on her had to keep a death grip onto the branches as the tree took him higher and higher into the sky.

And she wasn’t left alone either. A massive tree, easily twice as thick as any of the others, carried her above the rooftops.

The ground at the root of her tree exploded, but she was already being carried into the branches of another tree. With a deep breath, she willed the tree to lift her until she was standing on one of the branches.

The mercenary screamed as she brought him up even higher and dangled him by his ankles over the streets below.

With the pain in her chest, her voice had turned deep and raspy. “Where… is the… explosion walker?”

She was glad her face was hidden behind the helmet, because she couldn’t keep her face from scrunching in pain at every word.

“I-I can’t-” he squeaked.

The branch he was hanging on gave a sudden jerk, and he whimpered slightly.

“Trust me…when I say that I would love to see how many times…I can catch you before you hit the ground. But neither of us…has that kind of time.”

Before he could answer, the branch let him go. He screamed for the four feet he fell before landing on a pillow of leaves.

“That’s one.”

The mercenary slowly worked his way to his feet before his ankles were entwined again and he was lifted to her.

“He set up shop in a department store,” he said quickly. “Donny’s.”

It was only a few blocks away. Now she just needed to get there without him blowing her up.

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Chapter 84: Racing

Mitchell’s legs gave out and he fell to his knees. For the first time since he’d gotten his powers, he felt like the world around him was moving faster than he was. There were noises outside; gunfire, explosions. But his eyes were stuck to the figure on the floor in front of him.

His sister wouldn’t wake up. It looked like he bare managed to shut their door behind her before she’s collapsed face down on the carpet.

He’d tried calling 911, but nobody answered. He’d run up and down the apartment building, looking for anyone who could help, but nobody would answer their door.

“Please-ease,” he whispered. “Please wake up-up.”

His eyes were glued to the slow, unchanging rise and fall of her shoulders.

The sound of an explosion slammed into him and he threw himself over his sister. He heard dishes shattering in the kitchen and gripped her limp form tighter.

Another explosion shook the building. And then another. They kept growing louder and closer, and louder and closer, until he was sure the next one would be landing right on top of him.

Finally, the shaking stopped.

Mitchell slowly flipped his sister onto her back and rose to his feet.

He stared into her closed eyes and his heart slowed to its normal rhythm. As the battle outside quieted again, his fists clenched and his face flushed.

He dragged his sister into her room and, with some effort, managed to get her onto her bed.

“I’ll be back,” he whispered. “I’ll save you. I promise.”

Red Racer ran out of the apartment and into the street.

Almost immediately, he froze.

The sound of gunfire bombarded him from every direction, and he had no idea where to start.

“How do I-?”

A scream pierce through the gunfire, and he stopped thinking.

All around him, the dust and debris pulled itself towards him. A burst of gravity sent it all flying away and launched him towards the scream.

He couldn’t really describe what Running was like. The way the world started moving so fast but stayed in perfect clarity, the way his muscles knew how to move without any thought or desire, the way space seemed to bend and twist to let him move even faster, all of it compressed itself into a single action and he moved, he Ran.

The scream had only been two blocks away. Some runners couldn’t even build up any real speed in that amount of space, but for Red Racer two blocks was less than three seconds.

When he was a halfway there, he could already see all five of the mercenaries, and he could see the woman in a blue dress surrounded by them. She had fallen on the edge of the sidewalk, and the mercenaries had formed a loose circle around her. One of them was shouting something that he couldn’t hear, but the woman was shaking her head.

When he was a few dozen feet way, one of the guns was already centered on him. Red Racer couldn’t outrun a bullet, not without a lot more room to build up speed, but he didn’t have to. By the time the mercenary had realized wheat she was aiming at, Red Racer slammed his shoulder into her chest. There was a brief moment where he could feel the air being forced out of her chest beneath him.

The other mercenaries were bringing their guns up away from the woman on the ground. Another of them was already dropping to the ground as Red Racer hit him in the knee.

And then they started firing.

Red Racer was already out of the way of the bullets.

He ran up the wall of the building and launched himself off of it, straight into the chest of another mercenary. They both fell to the ground, and Red Racer rolled back to his feet. He had slowed for less than a second.

His eyes flashed white and black and a red hot poker dragged itself across his right arm. A guttural scream tore itself from his throat. If he hadn’t been running, he would have fallen to the ground, but whatever force let him run, kept him running.

He’d been lucky, the shot that had hit him had gone wild, and it was the only one that even came close. He made a tight turn and moved back towards the last two mercenaries.

They started firing again, but he was already out of the way of the bullets.

One of the guns clicked empty and the mercenary cursed under her breath. She fumbled for a new magazine and Red Racer knocked her to the ground.

The last one began firing wildly, but Red Racer was already behind him. He slammed into his back and the last mercenary hit the ground.

None of the mercenaries was unconscious, but none of them was getting back up.

Red Racer slid to a stop next to the woman. At some point she had dived to the ground and covered her ears. Even after the gunfire had ceased, she remained in that position.

“I’ll get you out of here.”

She didn’t answer.

He reached down and grasped her shoulder. The weight she’d been resting on her elbows collapsed and she landed roughly on her side. There were dark spots growing on her dress and the smell of copper filled his nose.

Red Racer’s eyes grew wide and his breaths grew shallow.

He ran.

He didn’t run towards the gunshots, he ran towards the closest building.

The revolving door broke off its axle after he passed through. The bathroom door clattered to the floor behind him.

He barely got his helmet off of his face before the contents of his stomach filled the toilet. He tried to take a deep breath, but the smell of bile and acid filled his mouth and he puked again.

Finally, he curled up on the floor of the bathroom and he let himself cry.

Red Racer had been ahead of the bullets.

The woman in blue hadn’t.

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Chapter 83: Stealth Mode

Cars had pulled to either side of the highways, leaving a path for the pack of Humvees to make their way through the cities. Over a hundred of the armored cars flooded the major roads, blocking off every major intersection and turning the city into a prison.

About half of the Humvees broke off from the blockades and started spreading through the cities like dozens of baby spiders running along a web. The patrols moved slowly, but there were enough of them to keep the main roads under complete lockdown.

Half a dozen men and women poured out of trucks and started moving alongside the patrolling Humvees. They all shouldered weapons of varying sizes, but most of them were checking the magazine for assault rifles. Each of them wore a matching grey on grey uniform that made them nearly impossible to spot from the air.

Burnout cursed under his breath as he quickly dropped from the sky. If they hadn’t seen him already, then he’d just used up his luck for the next month.

He dropped his flames down to nothing and hid in the shadows of an alley. He had to duck behind a dumpster to avoid the spotlight of a Humvee on the main road. They were looking for anyone still awake. Of course they were. Whatever spell or chemical had done this couldn’t affect anyone. There were more walkers in this city than any other on the planet.

He wasn’t alone.

But that didn’t make things any easier. Without being able to fly or drive, getting through the city would be nearly impossible. Even if anyone else was looking, there was no way to find them.

The Council’s headquarters would be the best place to find someone who could help, but if this was really an invasion, then that would be the first place they would secure.

Another spotlight shined down the alley and Burnout quickly ducked down again. Dangerous or not, Sigurd and Maestro had the best chance of not being asleep. He needed to move.

“There’s no time for doubt, I need to get moving.”

Burnout used as little fire as he could to get airborne and darted deeper into the alley. The moment he came close to a main road, he stopped dead. The sound of an engine rumbled from the road. Burnout pressed himself against the wall and had to stop himself from holding his breath. His palms felt slick, even against the dry brick of the building behind him. His heart was beating so quickly and so loudly that he thought it might wake up the block, artificial sleep or not.

The Humvee slowly rolled past, its spotlight stopping just short of revealing him to the enemy. The mercenaries marching behind it were as busy searching the sky as they were the roads. Even after the last of them passed by the entrance of the alley, Burnout kept himself from moving away from the wall until he heard the rhythmic sounds of their marching turn down another corner.

Again, dim, navy flames surrounded him and he threw himself into another alley on the far side of the street.

It didn’t get any easier. Every patrol was just as likely as the last to be the one that spotted him. He couldn’t afford to let himself relax.

By the time he was halfway to the tower, there was a straining pressure building behind his eyes and he had had to stop flying the second time he ran into a wall.

Burnout rested in the dark corner of an alley, somewhere just outside of the business district. It had only been an hour since everyone and started falling asleep, and he already felt like he’d been patrolling the entire day. The transition from brick apartment buildings and cramped houses to concrete walls and glass store fronts had been a welcome relief, but it would be almost an hour before he made it to the Council’s headquarters. And after that, he’d probably have to fight.

The more he thought about it, the harder the strain behind his eyes grew.

Burnout shook the feeling from his head and pulled himself back to his feet. He stumbled through the alley towards Carpenter Tower. A Humvee was rumbling down the road ahead of him, but he was too deep in the alley for its spotlight to reach him. It had already turned a corner by the time he reached the street.

There wasn’t an alley on the far side of the street. He’d have to make it at least a block west before he could get off of the main road and away from the patrols.

Burnout took a deep breath and let the dim light of his fire surround him. It wouldn’t be enough to fly, but he should be able to run a little easier.

He could still hear the patrol moving down another street a few dozen feet away. If any of them looked back when he was crossing in front of it, then he was screwed, but by the time they were out of the way another would be driving by.

Burnout braced himself against the wall and kicked off with everything he had. He sailed forward, almost tripping each time he took a step, and every step sending him another dozen feet ahead.

“How do Hawthorne and Allspades do this?” he muttered.

There was a brief shout as he was crossing the intersection and he had to stop himself from freezing on the spot. They weren’t sounding the alarm just yet, and if he was fast enough then he could disappear before they were sure he was there. The alleyway was only a dozen yards away, and he kicked off the ground one last time to send himself sailing into its wall. He caught himself on the smooth concrete surface and recalled his flames.

He heard the mercenaries turning the corner of the road, but was already too deep into the alley for them to see him.

The fighting had long since started by the time he reached the Council’s headquarters. There were three heroes facing off against the mercenaries. He only recognized Adamant, standing in front of the door, easily absorbing the force of bullets and bolts of magic being sent his way with his metallic skin.

The heroes were holding them off, if only barely. None of the mercenaries had the power to take them out, but their numbers were quickly wearing the heroes down.

Burnout took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The dim flames around him erupted into a sky-blue inferno and he leapt into the air.

Some of the mercenaries turned to fire at the comet racing towards them, but the bullets melted before they could reach his skin.

He crashed into the ground at the center of the attacking force, and a wave of flames burst out and threw the mercenaries away from him. He jumped into the air again before he started melting the street and hovered over Adamant’s shoulder.

Adamant’s narrowed eyes darted to him briefly before focusing on the regrouping mercenaries.

“You’re one of Writer’s kids. I don’t know how you’re awake, but you’re a sitting duck out here. Get inside before they start throwing something you can’t melt.” A broad smile broke his silvered face in two. “I want to see what they try and hit me with next.”

Burnout wanted to protest, but Adamant had started walking towards the mercenaries.

Burnout didn’t turn down his flames until the door shut behind him. The entrance hall was empty, but the doors on the far side were opened. There were a few people waiting in the hallway, teenaged heroes; the ones that didn’t look like their faces were being stretched down by exhaustion were wringing their hands or clutching their legs while they stared at the walls ahead of them with wide unblinking eyes.

Burnout slowly made his way past all of them. Stepping over their legs or skirting around their huddled forms.

The door at the far end opened, and the cloaked form of The Court stepped out. He didn’t speak, but he pointed at Burnout and beckoned him into the room.

Burnout quickly made his way inside. The seats of the Council loomed above him, but most of them were empty. A few figures were sleeping in the corner, hidden by the shadows that plagued the room.

“Center, quickly,” The Court’s voice echoed through the room. “I don’t have long.”

Burnout stepped into the center of the room, and was immediately surrounded by a magic circle that filled the space between the chairs.

“What’s happening?” Burnout’s feet had become stuck to the floor. “Why are you the only one here?”

“Spell’s too strong. I don’t have the time to fight it off.” The Court’s normally slow speech had grown urgent. He was pacing all around the magic circle, frantically waving his hand to change the symbols within. “It’s the same one you were under. I can use you as a catalyst to wake the others. You’ll be all we have.”

Before Burnout could ask who he meant, The Court slammed his hands together and a burst of greenish white light shot through the roof of the building and scattered around the city.

When it was over, The Court had crumpled to the ground, fast asleep.

Over in the corner of the room, a figure stirred.

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