Month: January 2017

Chapter 119: Watch

Hawthorne had already left by the time he reached the hospital room. Mach…Tina was still there, staring at the news. The newscasters weren’t talking, but Miss Mirror and Allspades’ names were on the scroll at the bottom, alongside Jaegers.

He forced himself into existence slowly. Tina acknowledged him with a nod.

“John.”

He nodded back, but remained focused on the news.

Allspades had been blown the far side of the damaged block; it wouldn’t take him long to get back, but he would have to unbury himself first.

Jaeger squared off against Miss Mirror. The newscaster was talking now, but her voice was quiet and muffled.

John glanced over at Tina, but his gaze didn’t stop until it landed on Mitch, still sitting on the bed. He saw Tina nod slightly when he did. “What are her chances?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “15 years ago, there were only a few heroes who could take him on. He was faster than any runner at the time, possibly the fastest since walkers were revealed. His powers are gravity based, and the only gravity manipulator around had to put a lot of effort into overpowering him. He had a habit of messing with other people’s powers. He used the wake from his power to make it difficult for them to use.”

Miss Mirror had looked like she was putting up a good fight, but Jaeger was doing something to her now. She was floating but it didn’t look like she was in control.

“Not good then,” John said. “She’s tough, but she’s only been active a few years. She’s never fought someone who could affect her powers.”

Tina’s brow furrowed. She was clutching the wheels on her chair; her knuckles were slowly turning paper white.

“What do they need to know?”

“What?” Tina’s hands didn’t loosen, but the worry had faded from her face for now.

“They’re going to fight him. We can’t fight with them, but we can help.”

Mach slowly nodded. Her eyes closed.

John pulled out his phone and quickly called Burnout. He answered immediately.

“They need to be ready for his wake. Even if he doesn’t touch them, he can hurt them. And if they want even a chance of winning, they have to stop him from moving. Not just his legs, or his arms, they need to keep him as still as possible. They’ll have to trap him somewhere that Hawthorne can wrap him up before he can use his powers.”

Unimportant waited for more, but Mach stopped talking. Her hands were still clutching the wheels, but she was breathing more steadily.

Jaeger jumped over something in his path, breaking the trap he’d caught Miss Mirror in.

The newscaster’s voice finally came through clearly. “Another hero has arrived on the scene. We are getting confirmation on the identity now-”

Tina muted the TV. “She arrived faster than I expected.” She had released her wheels and blood was slowly returning to her hands. “Thank God.”

“Burnout should be right behind her.”

They stared silently at the news, but didn’t turn the sound back on. Hawthorne and Burnout’s names joined the others on the scroll.

John walked to the other side of the bed and sat down. He had had to watch his teammates fight before, but there was always something he could do to help. Against this opponent, with so little time, he was useless. A weight settled on his shoulders and he felt himself sagging into the chair.

“You’re not useless,” Tina said.

John’s eyes slid off the TV and to her.

“I own enough mirrors to know the look.”

“I don’t like sitting around doing nothing.” Tina raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t mean-”

“I know you didn’t. I don’t like it either. I used to be able to fight with them. I built the weapon that drove off Frankenstein, and now the best I can do is offer some good advice. I can’t even control the powers I have.”

“So how do you get through it?”

“If you had the powers you needed to help, you would. If I could still walk, I’d be right there beside them.”

“That’s enough?”

“No. It’s never enough. It’s barely even a comfort. But I know that I would never forgive myself for not helping if I could. That’s the best I have.”

John didn’t have an answer for that, and Tina didn’t seem ready to give any more.

A blue sphere took up the entire screen. It looked like they were trying to catch Jaeger.

John stared intently at the screen, barely catching the slight movement out of the corner of his eye.

And then the sphere exploded.

“No,” Tina breathed. She bolted upright in her wheelchair and had to catch herself before she fell off.

Jaeger was already charging at Hawthorne.

And then the fight was over. He’d taken out all three of them in moments, and now he was dragging Burnout back to pile them together.

John couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. Even with everything he knew about Jaeger, he never expected the others to lose. They’d taken on a man capable of throwing buildings and using their own blood as a weapon. Compared to that, this should have been easy.

Unimportant started to fade and jumped to his feet.

He ran for the door. He’d never get there in time to stop anything. He wouldn’t even get there in time to see Jaeger leave.

Tina didn’t say anything when he passed. Her eyes were clouded over, and he could see the tears starting to form at their corners. Her hands gripped her wheelchair again, but she made no move to release the brake.

He opened the door, and something blurred past him.

Unimportant and Tina both looked at the now empty bed.

Tina looked back at the news. “He’ll get there in time.”

Unimportant didn’t say anything. He ran out the door and straight for the stairs.

Tina rolled out after him, but didn’t rush. There was nothing else she could do.

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Chapter 118: Thrill of the Hunt

He couldn’t help the toothy grin that stretched his face. There was something special about using one hero as a weapon against another that few things could match. He’d missed the looks of shock, followed by the quick calculating moments where they tried to avoid hurting each other.

The boy stopped dead when he flew into Miss Mirror. There wasn’t even the sound of an impact. He fell from her grasp, dropping the short distance to the ground and climbing to his feet without a hint of discomfort.

Jaeger’s grin vanished. That wasn’t as fun as he’d hoped.

The world blurred by in nearly perfect clarity. The ground and air warped around him as he ran just past the one he’d thrown before coming to a sudden dead stop. The boy tried to keep his ground, but the full force of Jaeger’s wake slammed into him. He tumbled away, not far, but far enough to let Jaeger’s prey come down to the ground.

She didn’t say a word. Her eyes glowed a blue so pale and bright they almost looked silver. They met his and didn’t waver. She wouldn’t be talking yet.

She may as well have been punching through mud. He slid around her fist, but his wake slid off of her like water splitting on a boulder.

Her father had been similar. Gravity had obeyed him more finely than Jaeger could use his weapon; but it had taken him hours to set the trap that robbed Jaeger of his speed. This girl didn’t have his powers, and she didn’t have his skill.

Jaeger ran, circling the girl with ever tightening loops.

The girl’s face twisted, first into confusion, and then into glorious shock. Her eyes narrowed. She tried to take a step towards the circle’s edge, but she couldn’t get any purchase on the ground. She tried to through her weight forward, but ended up cartwheeling in the air. Her skin was starting to flush and she started gasping and clutching at her head.

Jaeger leapt over the branch that grew in his path and came to a dead stop just short of the wall fob lure fire that sprouted in his path. It had happened almost too late for him to react.

The girl collapsed to the ground. Her skin was already returning to normal, but she wouldn’t be getting up until he was ready for her.

More prey had arrived. Three extras; the first boy and a new boy and girl. He had always enjoyed bonus prey, but today he had a goal beyond the hunt, and none of them looked to make good trophies. He couldn’t afford to have fun with these interferences.

The three of them were shouting at each other, but the words were meaningless. None of them were talking about his goal.

The first boy, the strong one, was glowing brightly enough that Jaeger had trouble looking at him.

He leapt for Jaeger. He might as well have walked for all the good it did. Jaeger slammed his elbow into the boy’s sternum, but there was no give in the strike. The boy’s armor blocked his hit and the boy’s weight slammed into Jaeger.

Jaeger’s speed clashed with the glow, and they both stopped dead. Even Jaeger’s wake couldn’t reach the boy.

Blue flames sprouted around the two of them. They started small, but they were soon taller than either of them.

“Now!”

The shout came from outside the dome. The ground rose up around them, cracking as plants grew from the concrete.

The boy leapt backwards; the plants gave him a boost and the flames weakened just enough to let him through.

The plants gripped Jaeger’s legs tightly and the dome of fire closed overhead.

This prey was turning out to be interesting more interesting than he expected. But just because it knew more tricks than he expected, didn’t mean that they were tricks he hadn’t seen already.

Jaeger flexed his power. The cracked street rose around him in a ring and slammed into the ground. The plants around his legs were cut off from their roots and stopped growing. He flexed his power again, and, with a kick, launched himself at the wall of fire.

Jaeger laughed as the fire burst apart at his touch.

The wall vanished behind him. The faint whupping of a helicopter meant that the news had found him again.

“Did you think to trap a hunter? You are just more prey waiting for my fangs. The decision on when they reach you is entirely yours. So which will it be-”

His prey was stunned. He could see the look in their eyes. The inner struggle that all prey went through before the hunt grew fun.

“Fight?”

He blurred forward, stopping just short of the girl in the center.

“Or Flight?”

His wake slammed into her. She skidded back a few feet, before her clothes reached down and buried themselves into the ground to stop her.

She was the plant manipulator, the more dangerous prey.

Her helmet would be made of plants too; she had armored herself well, but he had broken through worse.

Jaeger’s fist struck her in the stomach. There was a loud crack and splinters burst from the new hole in her vest. Her breath was forced form her lungs. He frowned at his lack of control. He hadn’t hit her hard enough to kill. A second layer of armor had kept him from piercing her flesh.

A glowing fist tried to catch him off guard. Jaeger’s head crooked to the side and the fist passed over his shoulder.

The arm came around to try and grab him, but Jaeger ducked beneath it and darted to the side, leaving the girl to collapse onto the ground.

Before she had hit, he was behind the glowing boy and his fist slammed into his head. The glow had been returning from his hand, but there wasn’t enough of it built up to stop his blow completely anymore.

The boy’s head snapped forward, taking the rest of his body with it and slamming into the girl’s helmet. The helmet was crushed from the blow. And there was blood trickling down the back of the boy’s neck.

Fire tore through the air where Jaeger had just been. This one thought he was safe because he wasn’t on the ground.

Jaeger smiled. He grabbed the strong one’s legs and spun him around. It only took one spin before Jaeger let him go and sent him shooting towards the fire boy faster than he’d thrown him at his first Prey.

He moved to catch his friend, but he couldn’t move fast enough. The two of them collided and the fire boy lost his height. His armor flickered for less than a second, but that was all Jaeger needed.

Jaeger’s fingers clawed into the fire boy’s ankles, and he kept running. The boy tried to fight back, but his flames were dragged away before they could reach Jaeger.

Jaeger slammed straight into a building. His powers kicked in, forcing the wall to part before him. He didn’t grant his passenger the same privilege.

There was a disappointing lack of blood on the boy’s face. He must have kept his helmet on long enough to take the blow for him.

Jaeger dragged him to the others. None of them had died outright.

Originally, he hadn’t planned on killing anyone until he had found his son, but these three had interfered with his hunt. He could not let that go unpunished.

A long sturdy knife appeared from his belt. He could collect some trophies before forcing the tricksters’ daughter into leading him to his son.

He froze.

Gravity had just shifted away from him, but not in the way that the trickster had done.

He searched desperately for the source.

Something small and fast was coming straight for him.

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Chapter 117: Empty

The black suit’s breathing became labored, snapping Will out of his memory. He wasn’t being careful enough; the void liked to play tricks on people’s minds, and it was too easy to lose yourself when there was nothing to pull you back.

Without a doorway open, the void between worlds was shadowless. Will and the black suit had been avoiding looking at each other too closely. Without shadows to define them, faces began to look…off. Will glanced at the anchor, unconscious and slung over his shoulder, and shuddered.

It was hard to say whether they moved through the void, or if it was the other way around. It was hard to say if moving between worlds took hours, or if it was instantaneous. Even sound seemed to behave wrongly in the void; you practically had to shout to be heard a few feet away.

Will hated the void. But then, everyone hated the void. It wasn’t the kind of place a person went to to keep their sanity.

The black suit released a breath and Will looked in his direction, though, not directly at him.

“Got it.”

A pinprick of real light appeared in the air in front of them, returning shadows to the world. Slowly the light grew into a circular doorway. They had reached the next world the anchor had jumped from.

Will let the anchor a shove. He floated gently through the void until the new world’s gravity took ahold and pulled him through the gate. The man flopped to the ground. Will watched his prone form closely.

The dust from his landing flowed around him, eddying around his hands and heads despite the lack of wind.

Will growled. This was the third wrong world they’d tried to take the anchor to.

“No good, then?”

The black suit’s voice was still calm, but even he sounded tired after the constant sliding.

“He must have been sliding between worlds for months before he was dragged there. Can you find his trail?”

The slider held his hand out and the dust around the anchor began to ripple. The swirls slowly started to change into a new pulsating pattern. Eight circles surrounding a larger rounded square. The suit ripped his hand away from the pattern with a sudden breath.

“Did you get it?” The suit said between breaths.

Will closed his eyes, recreating the pattern in his head and letting it ripple out. “1033. Positive.”

“That’s the smallest one yet. Let’s hope it’s the last.”

Will grabbed the anchor and pulled him back into the void.

With a flick of the suit’s wrist, the doorway closed, and the void became shadowless again.

The memories came faster this time.

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

“Tread softly. We’ll get you out of here.”

Rumor stared at the guard through his draping hair and the glowing bars. His double had stopped bothering to come along at mealtimes, but this was the first time a guard had tried to talk to him.

“You should be able to see it by now.” The guard was doing his best to go through the motions of delivering Rumor’s meal, but if he wanted to talk he wouldn’t be able to get away with that for long.

Rumor could see it. The world was starting to break. It was the only way he could describe the things he was seeing floating in the air. Rumor didn’t think the others could see it. If they could, they wouldn’t be so calm.

“How long do I have?” Rumor’s voice croaked through his dry throat.

“That depends on you. Your home is waiting.”

The guard couldn’t delay any longer. He slid the food into the cell and latched the slot closed behind it.

Rumor stared at the food and began to eat, nibbling at the loaf of bread.

Home.

The thought of going home had barely crossed his mind since the early days. Without Kaliope, the concept seemed hollow. There wasn’t anything waiting for him at home.

He saw his reflection in the glass of water. He didn’t look like himself anymore. His mouth was almost completely hidden by a beard that covered his entire neck, and his eyes barely peered out from behind his thick hair.

He didn’t recognize himself. It wasn’t just the hair either. His face was smooth beneath the beard. He’d had dimples, laugh lines too, but whether it was the food he’d refused to eat or the months of joyless days, they were gone. His eyes looked darker, deeper, and his skin was pale.

He didn’t know how long he had been here. 90 Books, give or take, but with nothing else to do he didn’t know how long it took him to read one. There was another one on the bed now, but the words blended together when he tried to read it.

The bread was nearly gone. Rumor looked at the other options on the tray; there was a full meal there, but he ignored what was left and finished the water.

He stood up to take his tray back, and his clothes cascaded around him. They’d fit well when he first arrived. Now he barely managed to keep them from failing off. Back home, he never would have let himself get this thin. Rumor needed muscles to do his job. But this world didn’t need him to have muscles.

This world didn’t need him to be Rumor.

But then again, his own world didn’t either. It had managed to continue without him. If it had been destroyed or recycled, he would have been pulled back. It was the way of things. He’d heard more than a few people talk about the sliders being forced back into this world, along with anyone they took with them.

Maybe Rumor didn’t have to go home. Maybe he could afford to lose the muscles and let his powers fall out of practice. Maybe he could throw that blank mask into a lake and never worry about it again.

Maybe he could just be Will.

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

A new door opened up and Will pulled himself back to the present. He didn’t say a word before he gave the anchor a push.

The dust rose with the impact and gently settled around him.

“Finally.”

The suit nodded. “We can go home.”

The doorway closed and a new one opened almost instantly.

Will stared at the circle of light. It felt like Home. A smile wormed its way onto his lips.

“How long do you think we’ve been gone?”

The black suit shrugged.

“No more than a couple of weeks. I worked the dilation as best as I could, but they were flowing a lot slower than us.”

Will sighed. “Things can’t have gotten too bad. Thanks for the lift.”

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