Chapter 91: Slow Going

Clouds had started filling the sky again and the stars were going out one by one. Every few minutes echoes of thunder would roll in from the far side of the city and the windows up and down the block would rattle along with it.

A child had wandered out of the bathroom he’d spent almost two hours on the floor of and starred walking down the street. He had no destination, only a goal. He needed to get away, away from the sight of a body on the ground, away from the smell of spent gunpowder, away from the taste of copper and rusted iron.

He didn’t run. The thought never crossed his mind. And yet, the streets blurred around him as if he was. The details of the world were washed clean and discarded in favor of the spot on the horizon where everything became one thing and the one thing vanished into itself.

Time vanished. At some point the sun had set, but he didn’t know if it had taken minutes or hours.

Eventually, Will found him stumbling down the middle of the street. He was holding the strap of his helmet in his hand and every other step he took it would scrape along the ground.

“Kid-” Will started, but Red Racer didn’t stop.

He was staring at Will, but his eyes were looking past him. Will reached out for his shoulder, but he was afraid to touch him. If he rand then they may never see him again.

“Red,” Will tried again. “Red Racer.” But the child kept walking past him.

Will looked back in the direction Red Racer had come from, but he couldn’t see anything there, and he couldn’t risk leaving him alone to go and check.

Will got in front of him again and bent at the knees until their eyes met. Red Racer’s pupils had shrunken to pinpricks, and red cracks had spiderwebbed their way over the whites of his eyes. Remnants of tears puddled beneath his eyelids, but there weren’t enough left to fall.

“What happened, kid?”

Red Racer stopped walking. There was a loud clatter as his helmet slipped from his grasp and fell to the ground. The tears in his eyes grew larger but still refused to fall. His mouth opened fractionally, but if he was going to speak then the words died in his bone dry throat and turned into a short croak.

Will reached his hand forward and Red Racer stepped back without flinching.

“I-I didn’t save her-er.” Red Racer’s voice was tiny and shaky. “There were only five of them-em.”

Almost immediately, Will’s eyes darted to the crimson wings on his chest, looking for any blood he could have missed.

“She was right there-ere.”

“And you went for the bad guys instead.”

Red nodded. His legs gave out and his knees hit the asphalt hard. Finally, the tears fell from his eyes.

“How can I-“

How can I keep going? How can I risk letting someone else die? How can I call myself a hero?

Red probably didn’t know what question he was trying to ask, but Will had heard all of them more than enough to know that none of them had a good answer.

“Heroes gamble with people’s lives every day. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes, we make things a hundred times worse. I don’t know what happened, but if the mercenaries had found her, then that woman was dead already. You could have saved her; you’re going to regret this day for the rest of your life. What you do with that is up to you.”

Red Racer nodded almost imperceptibly and stayed frozen on the ground. Will waited until his tears had stopped.

“Red,” Will’s eyes returned to Red’s. His pupil’s had grown a little larger, but still remained disturbingly small.

He didn’t respond.

“Mitch,” Will said as gently as he could. “We can’t stay here.”

Red Racer didn’t speak or nod, but when Will stood up, he made to follow him.  Will stopped to pick up Red’s helmet and led him off the road.

Will handed the helmet back to Red once they were safely away from the street.

“We’re going to collect some more people; you need to keep this on for now.”

Will’s path took them through the alleys and buildings, zig zagging its way across the city in a pattern that made almost no sense, but they never saw a patrol.

Slowly they started collecting more people; civilians mostly with a few stroller in the mix. At first, a few of them gave Red a strange look, but they didn’t say a word.

Once they’d collected about a dozen people, Will turned back towards the group. “The front entrance to the Council’s Headquarters is being bombarded by mercenaries almost constantly. Adamant’s defending it, and there are about 30 refugees waiting inside. A few of them will be ready to fight soon. Hopefully, it’ll cleared up enough to get you inside soon, but until I’m going to drop you off at the department store two blocks down. It’s big enough to keep you hidden until things calm down.”

A small murmur moved through the group, but no one objected.

Will had hoped that they would find at least one other hero, or even a stroller, but if anyone in the group had powers they were staying quiet about it. Even worse, he still didn’t know how they’d managed to avoid the sleeping spell.

So he led them as quietly as he could, with Red Racer at his side,

“Red,” he said quietly. Red Racer stared straight ahead. “When we get to the store, you need to stay with them, okay?”

Red’s head snapped towards Will; even behind the eye-shield of his helmet, Will could see his eyes growing wider.

“You need to rest, and I need to try and find any other survivors. It’s best if you stay behind.”

Red shook his head back and forth rapidly.

Will stopped dead.

The group behind him ran into each other before they managed to do the same.

There was someone up ahead, between them and the department store.

A figure walked out of the alleyway towards them, and Will let out the breath he didn’t know he’d bee holding.

“Hawthorne.”

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