Month: July 2016

Chapter 104: King no More

The glow had returned, but Allspades didn’t care about that.

He could feel his bones resetting themselves from his fall, but Allspades didn’t care about that.

There was a building flying towards him, but Allspades didn’t care about that.

Allspades ran straight for King. The building wasn’t an obstacle. The glow stretched out in front of him and drove a tunnel through the steel and concrete.

There was a clarity in his anger. The trip through the building lasted seconds, but he learned enough about the glow in those moments to match the first few months he’d had his strength. He could feel the way the glow flexed and flowed around him, focusing the full force of his strength on just the right spots to craft his path.

King didn’t look surprised, but he had lost the smirk that never left his face. His face had been twisted into a perfectly stoic expression like a perfect sculpture of poured steel.

King slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin. There was a twinge in Allspade’s left knee, where he still had the scar from one of their spars.

The glow could have matched the coin King had shot that day, it might be able to match a coin he could shoot today, but so far the glow had operated purely on instinct, and his gut was screaming at him to dodge.

There was a slight sparkle as from King’s hand. The glow pushed against the ground, throwing Allspades into the air. In the clarity of the glow, he caught a glimpse of the moment the coin hit the ground where his foot had just been. There was a brief flash of light, and the ground disappeared in a cloud of dust. A noise, something between the sound of crumbling rocks and the sound of grinding iron, slammed into Allspades.

Allspades landed, and nearly fell backwards into the bus long and minivan deep crater.

Under the cover of smoke, he felt the glow shrinking until it barely danced over his skin. He could still feel it pushing off with every one of his steps, letting him move twice as fast as he ever had before.

Another con shot past him, blowing the smoke away.

King was only a few feet away. He’d lost his shirt at some point since he drank the ambrosia, and Allspades could see the way his muscles still squirmed beneath his skin.

“You missed.”

King pulled a nail from his pocket and raised it towards him. “I am not yet used to my new strength, Mason.” If his face had turned to iron, then his voice was even worse. “But I haven’t missed a target I could see in quite some time.”

It had been three years ago, the last time they sparred before they were put on missions around the clock. Allspades had broken King’s shoulder that day, and he’d had the worm-like purple and pink scar ever since.

The scar was gone now. All of his scars were gone.

“You’re really gone, aren’t you? King died back in Confluence.”

“King? No, Mason. Your friend King died before we ever set foot in that disgusting city. King died the moment Plask asked how much his friends were worth to him, and I answered.”

“What?” The glow started retreating, and Allspades’ heart froze. He madly tried to keep it alive, and the struggle must have shown on his face.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Despite everything, a part of you always believed the lies they told us. You had to. It was the way you survived.”

The glow was fading even faster. Trump’s words kept breaking his concentration and Allspades couldn’t hold onto it.

“For what it’s worth. You three were the best part of those days.”

There was a glitter of light and the nail few from Trump’s hand.

And struck the glow exploding from Allspade’s body.

Allspades was beyond words. Once again, the only things that mattered were him and Trump. The glow stretched farther that it ever had. It reached for Trump.

But it wasn’t enough.

Trump spread his hands out and dozens of small pieces of metal shot out, ramming into the glow. Allspades felt each and every one of them and, against his will, the glow flinched back from them.

The glow reached out again and again, and each time it was beat back.

And then, there wasn’t any more metal flying towards him.

“I didn’t want od do this.” Trump raised both arms, and Allspades was flying back, into the building he had tunneled through before. The walls and floors came down around him. Burying him in rubble.

The glow was at work before the dust settled, pushing and breaking the debris until he shot out of the half destroyed building.

This time, he was flung into the sky, and there was nothing the glow could do to slow him down.

He was failing. The glow retreated into him, wrapping itself around his bones and vitals.

He landed in the branches of a tree.

The tree slowed his descent; it wasn’t by much, but it let him land on his feet. The glow handled the rest.

Burnout had already reached Trump. Trump was trying to push him, but with his new wings he as able to press against the attack.

Hawthorne landed next to him. The roots around her injured leg had grown thicker, and he could see them moving more than the ones on the other leg. “Thanks for keeping him distracted. He hasn’t gotten to too many buildings.”

The glow wrapped around him again. “It’ll be hard to get close.”

“We’ll manage.”

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Chapter 103: Anger

It had been quiet for so long. Maybe everything was okay. He raised his head out from between his knees, and the grip of his arms loosened.

At least a few of the others thought so. Their voices were growing louder, hopeful. They were shushed quickly, but the mood had lifted. He didn’t look at them for long

And then the world started to end. The ground shook. Metal screeched, echoing so much it had to be miles away but so loud that it must have been right next door. The others screamed. He saw them again.

Their guns were all pointed right at him. He couldn’t see their faces; he hadn’t gotten a good enough look the first time, but he could see their sneers, he could see the black pits where their eyes were and he knew they were death.

He took a rattled breath and buried his head back between his knees before she showed up, and he saw the rest. He knew he was shaking; he could feel the wall vibrating against his back. The gunshots rang out. He flinched, and was thrown back against the wall. But no bullets flew.

He peeked. The others had retreated back against the far wall again. None of them looked at him, they hadn’t spared a glance when he crawled under the racks and hid in the dark corner. The guns were gone, but he knew they’d be back.

He could feel them. Waiting on the other side of his eyelids.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

She watched the building collapse, and there was nothing she could do. Just like she couldn’t do anything when she first woke up. Just like she couldn’t do anything when the gunshots echoed around the city.

She’d tried to ignore it, for a while. TV and video games helped, but you could only ignore the gunfire and explosions outside of your window for so long. Eventually, she wheeled herself over to the window and watched the occasional flash of a muzzle and bright red streak of a tracer round fired into the sky. Sunrise had ruined that.

She had wandered into the kitchen in the time since, and the remains of her peanut butter still decorated the floor. Even across the room, she couldn’t not see the zeppelin coming down.

And then she’d seen the building. She’d been staring right at it when it fell. She felt her heart freeze in her chest and her stomach felt grotesquely empty. And then the screams started. Hundreds of thousands of minds had imprinted onto the collapsing building just as they died and every one of them tried to force their last thoughts into her head. Even asleep as they all were, the last moment of pain echoed.

Every neuron screamed as she felt herself being crushed a thousand times over. She felt herself trying to breathe only to realize there was no room for her lungs to expand. A metal birder had chopped off one of her legs. Her right was gone, leaving a trail of blood along her cheek as it rocked back and forth.

The building fell beneath the horizon and it stopped. The pain was gone, but she was rubbing her eye, oddly comforted by the pressure when she pressed on her eyelid.

She didn’t understand why, but she knew that the way the building had fallen had been unnatural,  forced. It had bulged before collapsing, as if it was being forced away from something she couldn’t see.

The news echoed behind her. It had taken the world outside the city four hours after she woke up to realize something had gone wrong, and they still hadn’t risked sending anyone to investigate.

But they’d seen the building too. It had been from the safety of the surrounding countryside, but she could hear the reporter failing to describe what he was seeing.

And as her power faded into the corners of her mind, she felt the strength in her arms fade and her vision went black.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

He had had a lot of bad ideas in his days, but this was by far the stupidest thing he’d ever done.

The wind whipped past his ears, drowning out the shouts form behind him.

The building had finished collapsing almost as soon as he’d left the copter. There weren’t any screams, but in the dark corners of his mind, he heard them echoing.

He’d never had a chance to talk sense into King. He’d never been able to tell him that he still believed the good natured asshole he’d spent years with was still in there. He’d never given him a chance to repent.

And now he never would.

Pain echoed up through his chest and tore itself from his throat in a yell more savage and wild than any human should be able to make.

He’d stopped thinking about the ground, but it was coming up fast. He knew he could survive the landing; he’d been rated for jumps from heights half again as high as the copter had been. But there were some fears that refused to be ignored.

His scream grew more and more panicked as the ground got closer. He barely had the sense of mind arrange to land feet first before the ground slammed into him.

Every joint in his legs threatened to shatter. The ground beneath them did. The street had turned into a crater, and cars on either end were threatening to tip over and roll towards him at the center. He gritted his teeth and slowly started to stand, forcing the half formed scream to stay quiet in his throat.

The first sound he heard was the groaning. Every building was screaming its pain from King’s passage, but the sound had stopped moving away from him.

Slowly the sound came closer until he could see a single figure walking down the center of the street.

Allspades took a deep breath. One by one, the muscles in his body tensed as he brought his hands up and clenched them tightly.

The collapsed building just behind him gave one last moaning grunt before it settled.

A white glow rose form his skin as the white burinng rage tore itself form his throat.

“KING!”

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Chapter 102: Leap

It’s the kind of sound most people never realize they’re afraid of, the sound of a building realizing that something important is broken and, one by one, every piece of concrete and steel that is only held up by the piece next to it realizes that there’s nothing to support it any more. It isn’t the sound of some artificial thing being broken. It’s the sound of a living creature, a mythical behemoth, giving one last cry before it stops moving entirely.

The entire zeppelin was falling apart. It was being bulged outwards, pushed from a single unrelenting source. If this was a death wail, it was a more painful death than anything natural had ever experienced.

Allspades’ hands slammed into his ears, but his entire skull was vibrating. He was vaguely aware of Hawthorne sliding off of his back as she tried to cover her own ears. He stared into the undulating blob of reddish black light that hovered in the center of the room. He tried to focus on the blob, focus on getting closer to it, closer to King. He managed a step before the zeppelins wailing grew even louder and forced him to a knee. The mercenaries were all pinned to the wall by their weapons and ammo; they were screaming, but it was lost.

Allspades collapsed, his eyes finally dragged away from the blob. There was someone running down the hallway towards him. His mind slipped away, and finally, he couldn’t hear the sound anymore.

Allspades opened his eyes. He was being dragged, and he could see Hawthorne being dragged beside him, though he couldn’t see who was dragging her. He tried to call out; he knew he spoke, he felt the words echoing out of his throat, but the sound never reached his ears. A dull ringing echoed in his head.

The dragging stopped, and he saw Will looking down at him.

“-ou—lk?”

The half formed sounds echoed past the ringing. Slowly, the ringing was replaced by whistling wind.

“Allspades, focus. Can you walk?”

“I think so.” Allspades slowly worked his way to his feet. After a moment, he nodded.

“Good. We need to move. I don’t know how long this thing will hold itself together.”

The whistling grew louder, Allspades slowly turned. The hallway behind him led straight to the lab. The far wall was gone, torn away completely.

“King-“

“Went outside,” Will said. “If we’re lucky, he won’t survive the fall.”

His gut twisted in his stomach. He either felt guilty for letting King die, or for not killing him. He didn’t know which one he’d prefer.

“can you carry hawthorne? i’d rather not have to keep dragging her.”

Unimportant’s presence slammed into Allspades; he flinched, and the ringing gained a little of its old strength. Will and Unimportant stared at him strangely, but he shook it off.

“Yeah…right, we’ll move faster that way.” Allspades easily lifted Hawthorne and cradled her in his arms. He glanced around. “Where’s Burnout?”

“I heard him fighting earlier. We’re going now.”

Allspades almost asked another question, but Will and Unimportant started moving, and he realized how stupid it was to stay still and talk. The thought started the ringing again and spots swam before his eyes and faded almost instantly. That wasn’t good, but it would have to wait.

Will led the way, which was good because Allspades had to focus too much on not falling to think about where he was going.

A blue light filtered through a door ahead. Will headed straight for it, and led them into a massive room.

Burnout hung in the air, armored in flames that moved unnaturally slow. Dozens of mercenaries littered the ground. A few were still fighting, aiming their guns at Burnout with a defeated look in their eyes. Will swept his hand and they dropped their guns as if they were scalding hot or as if they had come alive and tried to bite them.

With their guns gone, Burnout was able to sweep them to the side with his sword.

Will pointed at a helicopter, and Burnout flew straight for it.

“can you fly that?” Unimportanted asked.

“I’ve done it before. We didn’t die.”

“that’s not as comforting as you would hope.”

Will hopped in the cockpit and started flipping switches. Unimportnat seemed to stare at him for  a moment before clambering in back and turning to help Allspades get Hawthorne into a seat.

Burnout’s hand appeared before him with a pair of headphones. Allspades slipped them on and felt better almost immediately. The ringing still echoed in his ears, but there were no other sounds for it to bounce off of. He managed enough coordination to buckle his seat belt, and then he felt the helicopter lift up and out of the hangar. He watched the zeppelin out the window, slowly sinking beneath the clouds. The ringing faded a little more, and he slowly remembered the last few hours.

His eyes widened.

“There were people-“

“They’re fine,” Will said. “Beck employees will be teleported off immediately.”

“The mercenaries?” Burnout asked.

“The computer will do what it can. And there were enough of them conscious to get to some of the other copters.”

Some of them wouldn’t make it. Allspades knew it, and he could tell the others had figured it out too. They sat in silence.

“Uh-“ Hawthorne had shifted in her seat, she had woken up with her head against the window looking down at the city below them. “Is that building sliding away from the street?”

Allspades looked down. It wasn’t just the one. Four buildings were moving, bulging outwards or actually ripping from their foundations. Houses built to withstand earthquakes were starting to fall apart. At the center of the destruction, Allspades could barely make out a single figure walking down the street.

“King’s alive.” Someone said something. Allspades didn’t listen. But he got the message. He unbuckled his seat belt and moved to the door.  “I can get to him the fastest. Get there as soon as you can.”

Allspades opened the door and jumped.

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Chapter 101: Nectar of the Gods

If Unimportant hadn’t seen guards running out of the room after Burnout, he would have assumed that none of them did. Twice as many guards as he’d seen patrolling meandered about the room. Unimportant caught himself drifting towards the shadows, but it wasn’t the guards that drove him there. Even if none of them were in the room, it would have felt wrong.

It was as if there were hollow space in the room; a place where space seemed to fold in on itself that attracted and repelled everything around it. It made his entire body feel like it had been dunked in pudding and left to dry. Even the air tasted stale and moist; it burned when he breathed as it slithered into his mouth and down his throat.

The distortion was focused in the dead center of the room where an opaque glass box sat on a small pedestal. It was the only thing in the room; there were no desks or computers or equipment. The only light in the room stood directly above it, shining on the box like a beacon from heaven.  Trump circled it slowly, turning to face it at all times and staring at it through half closed eyes as if he could see through the black glass.

Unimportant slowly walked to the box, but the strange force emanating from it was twisting his stomach. He had to pause after each step to keep himself from heaving. His fingers tingled and he found himself twitching them uncontrollably.  He forced himself to take slow deep breaths but the air was getting caught halfway down his throat.

He forced himself to talk closer. A cold sweat dripped down his neck. His legs were growing heavy. Slowly, he realized that he had stopped moving forward. He was inside the circle of light, but only barely. He tried to take another step, and felt watched his foot slide backwards as if he were trying to run on ice or push a wall.

He walked around the room, trying to find a way to push himself through the wall, fighting back the heaving of his empty stomach all the while. He was never able to get any closer, and found himself spiraling away from the center of the room if he didn’t actively fight against the force.

No one should know he was here, but somehow someone was stopping him from reaching the box. It could have been a trap set up by Trump surely he had more walkers in his army than they’d seen so far. But even the most powerful walker had limits. Setting up a trap like this would require more energy than would be worth it. Especially with as many guards as he had in the room. If Beck had set it up as security, then Beck could never have gotten as close as he did.

As much as he hated to admit it, the only thing that could cause it had to be the box, or whatever was inside of it. Something about him or his powers must have triggered its defenses and caused it to push him away.

“It’s here.” Trump’s voice pierced through Unimportant’s thoughts. It was surprisingly clear and rang out above the muted sounds he experienced with his power. “The Ambrosia is inside this case. I’m so close, and yet I cannot get it open.”

Unimportant didn’t have a lot of time. He couldn’t get any closer, but he could make it easier for anyone else who managed to show up.

Unimportant followed his original instincts and crept into the shadows near the edges of the room. The guards were wandering about the room more than they were patrolling. It was strange, none of them talked, leaving Trump’s the only voice in the room.

“Anything strong enough to break the box will be strong enough to destroy whatever container the Ambrosia is in. There must be a way to open the box, and yet there are no switches or keypads to enter a code.”

Unimportant held his breath as he poured a healthy dose of chloroform onto a rag. He’d have to take the guards out one by one and hide them in the corners of the room. They’d be seen eventually, and far sooner than he would like, but the guards’ eyes were slowly being drawn towards Trump. He might be able to take out five or six before he was caught.

No eyes were on the closest guard. Unimportant struck quickly, flipping the cloth over the guard’s nose before he even noticed it anyone was there. The guard was young, and light enough for Unimportant to drag him to the corner quickly.

“Beck is no fool, if the box could be opened form another room then it would be far too easy for it to be stolen while walking to this one.  The notes form his tower are useless here. They labelled the room clearly, they describe every security function between here and the hangar, they describe the box in detail, but they make no mention of how to open it.”

He may have had more time than he thought. Trump was talking slowly, carefully thinking through his words. Unimportant had already managed to take out another three guards.

Unimportant avoided one of the larger guards. His struggling would be too obvious and too loud for none of the others to notice. The next guard was smaller, but the way his muscles rippled when he moved and the loud thunks that accompanied his footsteps meant he was probably a tank. He might be even harder to put down than the larger one.

The next guard went down quickly. He had wandered into shadows to lean against the wall and closed his eyes. He was probably already asleep by the time Unimportant knocked him out.

In the center of the room. Trump reached out and gently touched the box. It rocked.

The room froze.

Trump cautiously reached out with both hands and grasped the box. It lifted easily from its place on the pedestal. An alarm sounded, but Trump just laughed. He knew there was no one coming

What sat on the pedestal looked little like a bottle, and more like what a child might imagine a bottle would look like if it held something magic. It had a wide bottom, almost a perfect hemisphere save for the flat plane it rested on, and the top drew quickly into a long thin bottleneck that widened slightly at the top. An ornamental glass stopper rested in its mouth.

There was a loud crash from the entrance, but Trump held the bottle In his hands and lifted it to his lips.

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