Month: April 2016

Chapter 94: Stand

Adamant stood up again, and again he tried to reach the enemy’s barricade across the street. Again their bullets bounced off of him, and then they hit him in the face with a rocket.

Again.

Adamant wasn’t stupid, he’d been a hero for over a decade now, and he hadn’t survived just because his skin was tough to crack and he hit harder than the other guy. Behind him, the last of the heroes who had stayed outside the headquarters to fight were on their last legs, the rest were either dead or had been dragged inside. The only reason that any were left was that Adamant drawing the majority of the fire.

They weren’t hurting him, they had to know that, but each time he was thrown back, it cost him a little more to get back to his feet. He had maybe an hour left in him before he couldn’t get up anymore. This wasn’t the kind of fight he could win on his own, but every enemy they took out was instantly replaced, and a few of them had managed to rejoin the fight.

And still he got back to his feet. Because in a few minutes he would be the only one standing between the mercenaries and everyone still inside Headquarters. Because one life wasn’t worth hundreds, even if it was his.

And so, he picked up the girder he’d managed to sneak away on his last charge. Their tank had done a number on it when he was using Adamant as a baseball, but it would last one or two more swings. Or one good throw.

The girder spun end over end as it flew towards the man with the missile launcher; if he hit anyone with it, they’d die. He started running the moment it left his hands; he knew exactly where it would hit.

The mercenary with the missile launcher had started running as soon as he saw the girder flying at him. It smashed into the roof of the building at their feet. He smirked when he heard their panicked cries as they fled from the crumbling rooftop, but he didn’t slow down. It would only buy him about thirty seconds, and that would have to be enough.

Adamant slammed into the barricade the mercenaries were using for cover. It shattered, sending rubble flying into all the mercenaries cowering behind it. He ignored the bullets flying into him from both sides and picked up the next barricade.

It was a terrible club, too awkward to swing well, too fragile to take a good hit, and heavy enough that he could kill someone with less than a tenth of his full strength. He couldn’t risk hitting anyone with it, so he slammed it into the building, breaking it into a hundred pieces and showering the mercenaries around him with debris. A few of the mercenaries were knocked to the ground, and a few more were given some extra scrapes and bruises.

The gunfire from that side slowed down, and Adamant leapt towards them. The metallic skin covering his fists softened as he punched them, but it was still hard enough that he could feel their bones snapping under his blows. A dozen enemies fell in seconds.

He turned into the rain of bullets still coming at him from behind. There were enough of them that he had to dig each step into the concrete beneath him to keep from being pushed back.

The mercenaries shouted something, but he couldn’t hear it over their weapons.

He caught a flash of red and orange out of the corner of his eye, followed quickly but the sound of another missile being fired. He was out of time.

Adamant braced himself for the explosion, knowing that he might not be able to get back up after this one.

Another flash, and the missile exploded far behind him.

A blue figure flew out of the headquarters. Waves of blue fire spread from his palms and slammed into the mercenaries Adamant hadn’t gotten to yet. A few of them tried to target him, but streams of green goo sprayed out from inside the headquarters and covered their guns. Those who didn’t drop their guns immediately found their hands stuck to the quickly hardening shell.

Adamant felt the bullets letting up and quickly moved to take out the mercenaries closest to him.

Burnout passed over the battlefield as quickly as he could fly. The stroller who’d been shooting the goo could only see about half their opponents, and could only take out about three guns at a time.

Burnout started tossing fireballs behind the mercenary barricades. They were small, but the moment they touched the ground they blossomed into massive waves of fire pushed the mercenaries up against their own barriers.

He saw Adamant hop back from the enemy lines. As high as he was, he could only barely see the cracks that had started forming in the hero’s skin. But Adamant wasn’t running, he’d already lined himself up to take out another of the barricades.

He tossed a few more fireballs and landed next to Adamant.

“We can handle it, you need to get inside.”

“I stop when they do,” he said between breaths. His voice was tired and slow, but as confident as ever. “I’ve been handling it myself for this long, I can last a few more minutes.”

Burnout felt his retort dying in his throat when Adamant met his eyes.

“Your fireball trick is nice, but it won’t keep them down for long. We need someone who can take them out without setting them on fire. So unless your friend in there is going to come out and spray everyone you manage to knock down, you need me.”

It was a hard point to take from someone who could barely stand, but it wasn’t one Burnout could refute so easily. He’d only fought unpowered humans a few times before, and there had always been someone to arrest or restrain them when he was done. But Adamant had been fighting at and past his limits for hours now. As far as Burnout knew, he’d only done that once before, and, according to most of the news sites, his heart had actually stopped for an hour when he was done.

“You could die.” It was the only argument he had.

“Not today,” Adamant said. “Today would be a crappy day to die.”

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Chapter 93: Stay

The offices in the back of Donny’s Department store weren’t made to be secure, but they would keep the group Will had been leading safe. Will and Hawthorne had retreated back into the store proper while they got settled in. They had hidden themselves among the racks of clothing, where anyone passing the front of the store wouldn’t be able to see them. Hawthorne’s pollen still clung to every surface in the store, but it had dried out and would soon flake off.

“We can’t leave him here,” Hawthorne whispered.

“We don’t have a choice,” Will didn’t. “He’s traumatized; he can barely even walk fast enough to keep up with that group, and you want to drag him along into a war?”

Hawthorne’s helmet had pulled pack to reveal her eyes to Will; he did his best to ignore them but he could still feel the heat of her glare on him.

“Whether we like it or not, he’ll be ten times safer in here then when we’re hunting down the leader.”

“So you want to leave him in a building full of strangers instead? What happens if they’re attacked?”

They both knew the answer. No matter how young he was, Red Racer had a hero’s costume on; anyone who didn’t expect him to fight off an attacker wouldn’t stay around to help. Even worse, he would probably try to fight even as they abandoned him. If anyone investigated the store, Red would probably end up dead.

“Of course I don’t want to leave him here. I want to leave him with his sister or take him to his grandparents.” Will did his best to stay calm, but some anger had started creeping into his voice. “But we can’t do either of those, and I’d rather him stay here then take him into the middle of another battle.”

The roots of Hawthorne’s costume started writhing, as if she were covered head to toe in thousands of baby snakes. “There has to be a better option.”

Will didn’t say anything. Of course there was a better option; Red Racer could forget what he saw or overcome his fear and join them. But even if they had months to help him, Red would probably never be able to wear his costume after tonight without a miracle, and Will didn’t believe in miracles.

“This is the best thing we can do for him”

Red Racer listened to their conversation from the next aisle over. He’d snuck out of the room to try and stay close to Will and Hawthorne, but couldn’t bring himself to get closer after he heard the start of their conversation.

He sat amongst the clothes, hugging his knees tightly and resting his chin on top of them. Their words quickly dissolved into a stream of pointless noises, leaving him to dwell on the thought of staying behind.

He didn’t want to go back out there. He didn’t want to see the bodies that had been left scattered across the city. But he didn’t want to stay behind either. Even in the short amount of time between Will and Hawthorne leaving the group and him following, the others had loomed over him in the half light of the back offices. Every muscle twitch had nearly sent him running form the room, or charging to attack.

That had only lasted 90 seconds; the idea of staying in the same room as them for hours on end caused his heart to beat so quickly it felt frozen. He didn’t want to know what he might do if he had to stay there any longer.

“-take him home-“ the words managed to drift past Red’s thoughts. Take him home? That wouldn’t be any better. The only thing there was cold food and a sister who couldn’t wake up.

Red’s mind stayed frozen there, at the thought of his sister laying on the floor, so motionless he thought she might be dead. She’d never have let him leave the house. She’d have done everything she could to make sure that he never had to fight a single mercenary.

She’d have been able to save that girl.

Hawthorne walked back to the offices, but Will didn’t follow.

It took Red a moment to realize Will was sitting next to him, holding out a small bag of tissues. He hadn’t even noticed that he started crying. He carefully pulled one of the tissues out and dabbed at the wet streaks flowing down his face. But the tears weren’t stopping.

“I’m not sure how much you heard, but I think it’s best that you stay here.”

Despite himself, Red shook his head.

“You can barely stand. You’re not going to be much better in five minutes. You can’t even talk well enough to try and prove you’re ready to come.”

Red shook his head again. He couldn’t let them leave him here. As much as he knew they couldn’t take him, he couldn’t stay behind. He couldn’t be responsible.

Will sighed. Red knew he didn’t want to leave him behind either.

“Why did you want to be a hero?” Red Racer’s voice was tiny, almost impossible to hear. Will turned to look at his face, but couldn’t get him to let their eyes meet.

“Because someone said thank you.” Will’s voice wasn’t much louder than Red’s. “No matter how many people I couldn’t save or who didn’t want to be, somebody would always say thank you.”

Red nodded slowly and rested his chin back on his knees.

“I know you don’t want so stay here, kid. But right now, I need you to. And so do Hawthorne and your sister. When you can run again, you’re free to go wherever you need to, and no one will judge you. But until then, you need to keep still.”

Red stayed silent for a long second. His head never left his knees, but his eyes darted back and forth constantly.

“I’ll stay.”

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Chapter 92: Drive

Allspades’ fist slammed into the mercenary’s chest, hard enough to cause a sharp crack to pierce through the sounds of the others shouting.

Normally, he would have been sent flying by the punch, but Allspades reached out and grabbed his leg before he could. Allspades twisted, bringing the barely conscious mercenary over his shoulder and tossing him at another enemy.

The two collapsed in a twisted mass, but Allspades didn’t check on his work. He stood still and let the blow from a third mercenary’s rifle slam into the back of his head. Then he twisted, bringing his elbow around and striking her in the side of her head.

There was another mercenary left, still reloading from the initial salvo they had launched against him, but Allspades ignored him. He walked over to wear he’d dropped his burden and lifted it onto his back. With his other hand he rubbed his shoulder roughly. It was still twinging from when he was buried  under the library.

The last of the mercenaries clicked his second magazine into place and drew a bead on Allspades. His finger reached for the trigger when he started convulsing and dropped to the ground. Unimportant faded into existence behind him and flipped the stun baton closed with his one good hand.

Allspades had only barely managed to keep Unimportant still long enough to put his left arm into a sling before they ran out of Beck Tower and straight into the path of a patrolling Humvee. Unimportant had insisted on getting to Will as fast as they could, and stealing one of the enemy’s cars was definitely the fastest way. He didn’t explain why and Allspades didn’t ask; he didn’t want to trade stories.

But there was still something that bothered him.

“Can I ask a question?”

“we have a car now…go ahead,” he echoed. “i’m driving.”

“Who is this guy?”

Allspades lifted the unconscious man he’d been dragging for the last few blocks by the scruff of his shirt and tossed him into the backseat.

Unimportant waited for Allspades to hop to the other side of the car and get in before answering.

“trump had him looking for something in the tower; Beck moved it to a zeppelin yesterday.”

The car started and Unimportant gunned the engine, pulling the car into a sharp U-turn and speeding away from downtown. Allspades gripped the dashboard in front of him, digging trenches into the surface.

Once Unimportant settled on a speed, Allspades let go of the dashboard. Unimportant had faded more into existence now, though his face remained obscured.

“He managed to tell Trump where it is before I could knock him out. We need him to tell us where he went.”

“Then pull over.” Allspades unconsciously cracked the knuckles on his left hand and his the shadows cast by the car’s frame seemed to grow a little lighter. “I can get him to talk.”

The waves of emotions that had always rolled off Unimportant stopped. “No.”

Allspades frowned.

“I saw how you fought. I can’t trust you right now.”

“Stop that”

Allspades didn’t know when he’d started putting his seatbelt on, but the buckle had been bent in half by his grip.

He could feel Unimportant’s eyes glancing at it before quickly returning to the road.

“Even if you could find out which zeppelin he’s going for, we’ll still need Will if we want to get onboard. So take the chance to calm down, or Will will make you stay behind.”

Allspades gritted his teeth, but managed a nod before Unimportant had to swerve around an overturned car sitting in the middle of the road and made him grip the door grip so tightly it snapped free. He couldn’t see Unimportant raise an eyebrow, but he could feel the wave of humor rolling off of him before it almost instantly calmed down.

“You’re not going to ask?”

“I saw what was left of the library on my way to the Tower. Somebody on Trump’s side wants you dead.”

“He’s close, but it’s so much worse than that, isn’t it?” Paige’s voice echoed in his head.

Allspades just shrugged. “I was probably still stuck there when you went by. I made a beeline for the tower as soon as I shook myself loose.”

A short burst of shock and regret flowed from Unimportant. “Sorry, if I’d known you were there-“

“We wouldn’t know where Trump is now,” Allspades finished. “You did a lot more good not knowing than you would have by helping.”  He tried to stretch the ache in his shoulder out, but it wasn’t leaving.

“I suppose” Unimportant’s voice wavered back towards its echo. Allspades had to fight not to roll his eyes as his emotions started fading back.

“Don’t,” Allspades said. “If I had second guessed myself every time my mission forced me to ignore someone I could have helped, I’d be dead a hundred times over, and so would a lot of people we managed to save. You can be a bleeding heart when there isn’t an army invading our city.”

A wave of uncertainty washed off of Unimportant. “I don’t think I can think like that.”

“Then it’s a good thing wars don’t come very often.”

But Unimportant’s mind was elsewhere. He’d heard gunfire on his way to the tower, and almost immediately discarded the thought of helping. He hadn’t even considered regretting it until now.

“what did i…” he whispered. The echo had returned to Unimportant’s voice.

“Huh?”

Unimportant shook the thoughts form his head. “It’s nothing; we should see the Councils Headquarters in a few more minutes.”

Allspades nodded. “Good, the faster we get this guy talking, the faster I can go after Trump.”

Unimportant nodded, only half listening to what Allspades said.

There was a loud pop as Allspades rolled his shoulder. “Finally.”

He paused, and slowly glanced over at Unimportant still driving the car, and then down to his left arm, sitting out of view from the passenger seat.

“Why are you driving when you only have one good arm?”

There was a brief squeak form the backseat. The man had woken up just in time to hear the last comment.

“Because I called it.”

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