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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