Month: September 2016

Chapter 110: Break

At his touch the wall bowed towards him and then he let it go and it blasted outwards, sending debris shooting into the open air. The scent of grass filled his nose for the first time in 14 years. His stretched his arms towards the sun until his joints gave a satisfying pop.

The red lights flashed behind him and the sirens rang in his ear, but it was already too late. It was too late the moment they lost power. They only gave him a second, but that was more than enough time.

By the time the guards arrived he was already gone. The field around him blurred and melded into an abstract splotch of colors as he fled the prison.

Part of him wanted to go home right away, to take down everyone who had stolen his life all those years ago, but he felt his strength leaving him more with every league he crossed. He could be home in hours, but he would be too weak to face his persecutors.

He could afford patience. He had waited for 14 years; he could wait a little longer.

In three days, he would be strong enough to go home, and then he would have his revenge.

Bloodshed could wait. The hunt had already begun.

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It had taken nine days for the city to start functioning again. Even then, entire blocks were roped off and scheduled to be imploded. It would take months to get those buildings up and running again.

Burnout floated above the city. A few people noticed him, and more than one had stopped to point him out to their friends. Apparently someone had caught the four of them on camera after the fight. Ever since, none of them had been able to go out in costume without somebody trying to snap a picture.

They might not recognize him without the armor, but that one day had put him further along in using it than the months he’d been practicing with it since the cave. He needed to keep it up. Pretty soon, he might be able to use it all the time. So he left it up, and the crowds noticed him.

Two weeks ago, he would have loved the attention, but now he just wished he could patrol without people announcing his presence to the world.

And in two weeks, he’d be back in school. Last year, he’d barely been able to juggle his patrols with his classes without driving himself into an early grave. He was better now; he had a grasp of the person he needed to be, but this year the classes were supposed to be twice as hard.

His fiery wings unfurled behind him and he leaned back in the sky. Thoughts of school could wait. Sooner or later, he’d find a way to balance it out. Burnout and George Sadler could coexist, and he would find a way to make sure they did.

Something bright and red creeped into his vision. He turned over in the sky. A tree had grown on a nearby rooftop. Red leaves crowned its top, but they weren’t waving. It was important then, but not urgent. Burnout gave a completely unnecessary flap of his winds and glided towards the tree.

As he landed Hawthorne rested her hand on the tree and it collapsed back into a seed. He’d tried watching a documentary on rewind to see if it was anything like what she could do. Her way was much more disturbing. It looked similar enough, but the way the tree cracked and popped as the branches forced themselves back into the trunk sounded more…alive than a tree ever should.

“What’s up?” Burnout let his armor fade into wisps of blue and stepped out of it. It vanished completely behind him.

“If you’re asking then they haven’t found you yet. Will’s disappeared.”

Burnout’s stomach clenched.

“They don’t think he’s in trouble, but apparently no one the Council has talked to has seen him since a couple days after the attack. They wanted to know if any of us had. I’m guessing you haven’t either.”

“No,” Burnout said. “I wouldn’t even know where to start looking.”

“That sounds like what everyone else said.” Hawthorne sighed. “I was hoping that someone would know if he was all right.”

“So what’s the next move?

“Huh?” Hawthorne’s eyes jumped to meet his.

“We’re not just gonna let him disappear right? Are we all gonna meet up or just let each other know if we find something?”

Hawthorne blinked a few times before answering. “I don’t know if there’s anything we can do. Apparently, it looks like he was getting ready for a trip.”

“But…”

“But, we should at least take a look. I’ll get in touch with the others, let’s meet up tomorrow; at the place we had our first field trip.”

Burnout nodded. Hawthorne ran a few steps and launched herself onto the next roof, leaves fluttered in her wake.

Burnout didn’t take off right away. He walked to the edge of the roof and sat down. Will’s disappearance was concerning, but he wasn’t sure why. It was hard, impossible even, to imagine Will in real danger. The man never seemed surprised or worried. Even during the attack, he’d never seemed like he had lost control.

He’d watched Will walk up to a man twice his size and take him down in seconds. What kind of power made someone so sure of themselves that they never even flinched at the thought of going had to head with a tank?

And yet, he hadn’t been surprised by a moment of it. Ever since the first meeting, Will had always been there. A constant presence that helped them through every hardship on the way. Even when they’d separated during Asclepios’ attack, he’d turned up at the end, like he’d been waiting around the corner the whole time, like he’d been making sure that none of them were in enough danger to need his help.

And now, he was gone. The one person the six of them could guarantee would be there to help. Burnout looked off the edge of the roof. It was the same city he’d been flying over a few minutes ago; the same city he’d fought to protect last week. And right now, it felt less safe than ever.

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Chapter 109: Disappearance

Will stared at the ceiling.

It had been eight days. More than a few people had knocked on his door, but it wasn’t hard to convince them he wasn’t there. The only one with a spare key was Lux, and he should be out of the city for a few more days at least.

He hadn’t stayed shut in the whole time. He’d helped look for survivors in the wreckage, and he’d found more than his fair share of them. But after a few days, all the searches were done. After that he’d come home and spent the next day sleeping.

And then he’d just stayed in bed. He’d gotten up when he needed to, but he’d never had to leave the apartment. He pretended that he needed the time to think, but he’d spent most of the time avoiding anything he should be thinking about.

What he really wanted was a distraction, and it had come in last night.

Will was hiding and he knew it. But he was also waiting. His father was calling in the favor he owed, and that meant that some time in the next few hours, he’d be answering the knock at his door.  And then he’d be put on a plane that would fly in circles for a few hours to try and keep him from figuring out where he was going.

The last time he’d owed his father a favor, he’d had to take down an underground base that his father refused to confirm belonged to aliens, despite the fact that he’d met aliens multiple time before. The time before that he’d ended up at a party spying on some annoyingly rich people his father thought might be funding criminal organizations. Before that his father had taken him fishing.

That one had actually been the worst. Even halfway across the country, he could occasionally feel his father’s powers influencing him; tiny ideas and emotions would pop into his brain for no reason. When they got too close, his father’s powers became a constant buzzing in the back of his head. He could ignore it, just like most people did without even thinking about it, but it was a constant nuisance and he hadn’t been able to sleep for the entire three day trip.

Technically, he had only offered one day. But his father would use that day for all it was worth. And the day didn’t technically start until the mission did.  A one day debt could keep him gone for a week if it was spread out enough.

There was a knock at the door.

Will took his time getting out of bed. He grabbed his crumbled coat off the ground and shook it out. There was another knock, more insistent this time. Will grabbed a drink from his refrigerator and took a long sip before he opened the door.

A black suit stood on the other side. He held his tongue professionally, but there was extra effort going into his stoic face that made Will feel a little better.

“Time to go,” Will said.

The suit turned around and led Will down the hall and to a plain black sedan.

It was time to see how long his father would make the day last.

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Rachel Chase waited outside of her brother’s hospital room. She’d spent as long as she could inside, but she couldn’t stand it any longer. He spent most of his time staring blankly at the TV, whether it was could barely even get him to eat, and he’d left half his meals unfinished.

She needed to move. She turned down the hall and went to Tina’s room. Visiting her had been one of the few things that let Rachel stay at her brother’s side without breaking down. But that wouldn’t last much longer. She’d be checking out in two days, and Rachel would lose the only distraction she had left.

Rachel paused outside the room. Voices floated through the cracked door.

“I know you haven’t been able to leave the hospital, but we’re asking everyone who’s had contact with him recently. No one has seen him in a week, and when they finally got into his apartment, it looked like he was preparing for a trip.”

She recognized the voice, but she couldn’t remember his name.

“No, he didn’t stop by. I haven’t seen him since before the attack.”

“I thought as much, but people are starting to worry. He hasn’t disappeared in quite some time, but when he does, something usually ends up happening.”

“I’ll let you know if I hear anything. Thanks for stopping by, Aidos.”

Rachel heard him walking towards the door, but didn’t move. He didn’t look at her when he passed by, he just turned the other direction and walked away.

Rachel waited a few seconds before she walked into the room.

Tina turned toward her with a smile, but it quickly fell away. “You haven’t gone home yet, have you?”

Rachel froze and, eventually, shook her head.

Tina sighed. “It’s been a week. Driving yourself crazy isn’t going to do him any good.”

“What am I supposed to do? I can’t leave him here.”

“Mitch isn’t going anywhere. When he comes out of this, do you think he’ll want to see you looking like that?”

Rachel shook her head.

“Good,” Tina laid back in bed. “If you go now you’ll avoid traffic. We can talk then.”

Rachel turned to walk out. But she paused.

“What was that guy in here before me talking about?”

Tina turned back. “He was my contact for the meetings. The Council has been sending people out asking if anyone’s seen Will. They’ll probably ask you too.”

“Will’s missing? Who could-“ Rachel paused. Tina didn’t know who Will used to be. She hadn’t heard the same stories, or at least didn’t know he had anything to do with them. It didn’t sound like anyone had taken him against his will, but if someone had managed to do it, and been able to do it without raising chaos, then that meant someone was planning something huge.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Rachel said. “Will can take care of himself. They didn’t trust him with you guys for no reason.”

She wished she could be so sure.

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Chapter 108: Broken Steel

She knew where she was before she opened her eyes. There were people around her speaking quietly, and others whose voices were muffled by a closed door. The bed beneath her was hard and she could feel the head being sucked from her arms into the metal bars on either side. But the smell was all she needed.

There aren’t many places that smell as artificial as a hospital room. The sheets that smell clean only because they don’t smell like anything, the spiceless food sitting by her bed, the cleaning chemicals in the air that barely cover the almost sour taste that gathers around aging medicine. It was almost enough to distract her from the headache.

Tina opened her eyes.

The chair to her left was empty, but the blanket crumpled on top of it belonged to her mother. She wouldn’t have even brought the blanket if she hadn’t had to stay the night.

The voices on the other side of her hushed. Tina took a deep breath and turned over. George was there; that wasn’t too surprising, he and her father had gotten along the few times they’d met. He was one of the few people her parents would call.

Rachel was there too, and Tina’s stomach tightened a little. She’d been avoiding Rachel’s calls since she quit her job. There were rings around her eyes, and they had sunk deep into her skull, but she offered a half smile and Tina relaxed.

She almost didn’t recognize Jack; she hadn’t seen him since she had to stop working at the coffee shop and his arm was in a sling. He shouldn’t even know he was in the hospital, and how did he know George?

Her power woke up and her vision went white. Images flashed before her eyes, too fast for her to focus on. She caught a glimpse of Jack as she’d seen him in the coffee shop, and her times with the support group, but the image her powered settled on was the sight of Allspades in a warehouse with water raining down around him.

“Allspades,” she said quietly. “Jack.”

Her headache spiked, but it faded fast.

When she recovered, George was at her side, and Jack had gone to the door and looked to be waving somebody over. She tried to sit up.

“Slow down.” George gently grasped her shoulder. His face was twisted with worry. “You passed out during the attack. The doctor said to let her look at you before you move too much.”

Tina took a slow breath and lied back down. “How long was I out?”

“Three days,” a new voice said. Tina turned to look at the doctor walking into the room. Her eyes were glued to a chart in her hand. “In that time you’ve been put through more scans than most people get in a lifetime. By the time you got to us, your brain activity was completely normal. Since then we’ve just been waiting for you to wake up.”

She paused and glanced up at Tina, but Tina stayed quiet. The last time she was in the hospital, she was put through the bad news routine a few times a day. She knew when there was a “but” coming. The doctor looked at the others in the room and shooed them to the door.

“You’re going to be here for a while. At least a week. With your recent brain damage, we can’t take any risks. I was told that your power may have acted up during the attack. Do you remember anything?”

She did. She remembered every second as hundreds of deaths imprinted themselves onto the collapsing building.

Tina nodded.

The doctor waited for more, but when Tina didn’t speak, she nodded. “We can get someone for you to talk to about it if you want. It would help get you released, but there’s no hurry. Just let me know.”

She turned and walked out of the room. Tina relaxed back into the bed and counted down from ten.

When she reached zero, George was back in the room.

She kept her eyes on the ceiling. “What happened?”

“Most of the city was knocked out by a spell. They’ve had it carved onto billboards for months. We would have been asleep too-”

“But you tripped it early.”

He nodded. “The Court held out as long as he could. He managed to use me to wake the rest of the group up. We tracked down the leader and beat him. Will found the mage casting the spell and woke everyone up.”

Tina looked at George again. He wasn’t injured as badly as Jack had been, but she could see the bandages peeking out from under his sleeves, and there was a sickly purple welt covering half of his neck.

“Is everyone okay?”

George shifted uncomfortably. “Hawthorne has some broken ribs and she’ll be using crutches for a few weeks. Unimportant is mostly fine, but he has some road burns from jumping out of a car. You saw Allspades. I got away with some bruises.”

Tina tried to catch George’s eyes, but he was staring at the floor.

“What happened to Red?”

George shook his head. “He…he wasn’t hurt.”

If she waited for the “but” it would never happen. “What happened, George?”

“Someone died in front of him. It was before any of us had met up. Will and Hawthorne left him somewhere they thought he’d be safe, but he wasn’t there after the fight. Will said he showed up at his sister’s house a few hours later. We haven’t been able to see him, because-“ George made a vague gesture to his face. “But Will’s been talking to his sister. He said that Red’s barely talked since the attack ended. The doctor’s gave him some sedatives today because he hasn’t been sleeping.”

There were tears running down Tina’s cheeks. Rachel had been there, waiting in her room instead of her brother’s. George still refused to look up from the floor, so she quickly wiped them away.”

“George, can you send Rachel in. I need her to get some things from my house.”

He started to say something but started coughing. “Sure,” he said eventually.

Rachel closed the door behind her, and sat next to Tina.

“I’m sorry, Rachel.”

It was the smallest thing she could say, but there was no time to say more.

Rachel didn’t ask how she figured out that Mitchell was Red Racer. She probably didn’t even care.

“I don’t know how to help him,” she said softly. Tina reached out and took her hand.

Rachel started to sob. Tina hugged her friend as closely as she could from inside the hospital bed. Warm tears soaked into her hospital gown.

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