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.