Allspades

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.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

 

Advertisements

Chapter 116: Hunting Blind

They wouldn’t listen to her. She wouldn’t have listened either. But she had to try. No matter what they had managed to face down before, none of them were in Jaeger’s league.

She flew lower than normal. Even if she wasn’t next on Jaeger’s list, it would be hard for him to turn down such an easy target. She was ready for him. There were reflection points all over her body, as many as she could make. Even a mind reader would have a hard time finding a gap in her defenses right now.

She would have to live with the small ache beginning to buzz near the back of her head. If she didn’t fly, she couldn’t lead Jaeger to a safe place for their fight, and there was no way she would turn her defenses off.

She passed over the highway; traffic was only just starting to let up from the morning rush, but it was still packed with cars.

The area in front of her was desolate. The buildings that were still standing were as empty as the streets below them. She’d be able to go all out with worrying about sho might be in the way of anything she sent flying.

She floated to the center of the abandoned blocks and began to wait.

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

He hadn’t quite drawn the short straw; Unimportant and Burnout were working on tracking down Jaeger’s hideout, and Hawthorne had gone to get Mach and hang around Red’s room. He was the only one left who could do this job.

Allspades stuck to the streets when he followed Miss Mirror. It wasn’t hard; she was flying low, letting the lights of the city reach her. She knew there was a fight coming and was letting Jaeger know that she was ready.

It was a desperate move; she was letting her opponent choose when and where to attack. It was the kind of opportunity his old team would have used to take a target out before they ever had the chance to react.

It wasn’t until she crossed the highway that he understood where she was going. The ruins left from there fight with Trump had been cleared out, but nobody had started reconstruction yet. It was a large open area that nobody wanted to walk through if they could help it.

In the middle of a place like that, she might actually get the chance to see Jaeger coming, but she hadn’t seen him in person.

She knew where Red was. If Jaeger was really looking for him, then that was the only reason she’d make it through the first attack. All he had to do was wait for her powers to run her down and he could break through.

Allspades stayed near the edge of the area, keeping an eye on Miss Mirror’s floating form. This was the last building he could use to hide himself. His hand drifted to his phone hidden in his costume and clicked a few buttons. His earpiece buzzed to life.

“Allspades?” Hawthorne’s voice drifted into his ear. He could hear someone else talking in the background, Mach he guessed, but nobody seemed to be talking back. “What’s up?

“She’s floating in the middle of what’s left of Trump’s rampage. I don’t think she’s planning on going anywhere. Any updates from the others.”

“Burnout described a very detailed map of the city that Unimportant has been sticking pins in. I don’t think they’ve found anything solid yet. And I’m stuck in civvies until something happens.”

Paige tugged at their bond, jerking his attention to the roof.

“I need to go. I’ll let you know if something happens.”

“Just keep an eye on her, okay? If Jaeger comes for her, then you’re the only one who can help.”

She said that like he’d have a chance to do anything. By the time he reached Miss Mirror from where he was standing, Jaeger could have killed her a dozen times in increasingly intricate ways.

Allspades had to kick off the building about halfway up to make it to the roof. Paige seemed to drift away from him once he landed, he felt the bond stretch toward the sky.

His vision went black.  He failed to suppress a yelp, and only the reassuring waves from Paige kept him from doing worse.

Allspades took a deep breath, and, one by one, specks of light started to fill his vision. He was looking through Paige’s…eyes wasn’t the right word.

It was like he was slowly spinning to take the entire city in, but he could see it all at once. Paige would focus on whatever he asked her to, but he never lost sight ov everything else. Miss Mirror was just as far as she’d been from the street, but he could see her clearly enough to make out the scowl on her face.

Paige drew his attention elsewhere. Across the city, the air was rippling. Nobody walking near it was reacting. Unconsciously, despite the distance between him and the shimmer, he reached out to rub his hand against it. He couldn’t have touched it, but the moment his arm saw fully extended, he cried out.

His vision snapped back, throwing him to the ground. The muscles behind his eyes squeezed uncomfortable, causing the sky to swim above him. Even the slightest movement caused his head to scream and the ground and sky to rapidly swap places.

Allspades brought a hand up to rub the headache away. It took him three tries to successfully land his hand on his head before he could gently massage his temple.

The bond hummed gently without noise. He tried to reassure Paige, but he couldn’t be sure if his message was coming through clearly.

His tounge was dry, but his mouth was filling with spit. Allspades was immediately glad for his mask-free costume when the contents of his stomach spewed from his mouth and onto the rooftop.

“Let’s…not do that again if we can help it.”

The bond seemed to flip up and down rapidly.

His eyes returned to Miss Mirror. She was hovering in the sky still, but had slowly started to turn around and was sinking even lower.

“If he’s attacking he’ll do it soon.”

The bond screamed, but it was too late.

Allspades was soaring through the air. His cartwheels barely let him see the ground, but he could see the black and silver figure keeping pace with him, before he slammed into Miss Mirror’s floating form.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 115: First Hunt

No matter how fast she ran, she never got any closer. The man in black and silver was always a few dozen steps ahead of her.

Zero reached into her well of power and drew forth even more speed. Her legs moved faster and pushed harder off the ground. She gained a step on him, but as soon as she did, he gained it back.

It had been thirteen years since Jaeger had been locked away. She’d still been in the hospital after Hermes had died, but even if she hadn’t, she would have stayed away from that fight. Thirteen years ago she wasn’t even a tenth as fast as she was now, and Jaeger had been faster than any runner in the world.

For thirteen years, he had been kept nearly immobile in a cell, and she’d been getting faster. A week ago, she knew she was faster than anyone on this side of the world, and a strong contender on the other. But Jaeger was outpacing her at every step, and she knew that he hadn’t pulled everything out just yet.

Jaeger turned a corner. When she followed, he was gone.

The air was forced out of her lungs before she could feel the blow to her back. It lifted her off the ground and sent her plummeting forward.

At some point, she flipped. It was half a block before her shoulder hit the ground, sending her skipping like a stone on a lake.

She tried to catch herself on the second skip, but when her foot hit the ground it forced her knee into her chest. Her kneecap met her ribs and neither survived. If there was any air left in her lungs, it was gone.

Bye the third skip, she couldn’t protect her head any longer. She was barely conscious of closing her eye while left side of her face scraped along the ground before her tumble lifted it into the air again.

She was still at nearly full speed when, mercifully, her back slammed into the side of a reinforced truck. The thick metal was designed to outlast a tank. She dented it nearly to the breaking point before the entire truck tipped onto its side.

She bounced out of the dented metal, but she came to rest only a dozen yards away. She had just enough time to wonder about the pain before it hit her all at once and her mind faded.

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

Burnout’s phone clattered to the ground as it finally slid from his listless hand. The camera was zooming out from the accident, revealing the trail of destruction in the wake of Zero’s crash. The billboard quickly replaced the image with the anchor’s sitting at their desk but the damage was done.

He wasn’t the only one who was entrapped by the image. Allspades’ eyes had grown narrow and he was muttering something under his breath. Hawthorne’s costume was writhing and a few tendrils were swaying around her. Unimportant had faded into the background. Even Miss Mirror had stopped floating and her cape had stopped fluttering in the nonexistent wind.

Zero had been defeated, humiliated, by a runner she couldn’t even hope to keep up with.

He could feel the fire at his core shrinking away. How was he supposed to fight somebody like that?

“That’s Red’s father?” The words felt thick on his tongue. He made a vain attempt to swallow but his mouth was arid.

“He’s been in jail for as long as Red’s been alive.” Miss Mirror sounded less firm than she had in the minutes before the broadcast. “I never imagined that he’d still be so fast. If he hadn’t gone to the hospital to visit his newborn son, then he never would have been caught.”

It was the kind of trap that could only work once. The perfect set of powers and information to keep Jaeger still just long enough knock him out and put him in a cell designed to keep runner’s from moving. One hero to grab hold of the local gravity before he could and one to hit him in the exact spot needed hard enough to get him down; her parents.

“I don’t think we can be much help.” Everyone turned to Allspades, but his eyes never left the billboard. “I saw him before coming here. He’s not just fast, he carved a symbol into the Headquarters in a single pass and I didn’t even see him doing it. We don’t have the powerset to catch him; he’d see any trap we could set.”

Burnout agreed, in spite of himself. He’d read a dozen ways to catch runners with fire, and his armor added a few more, but there was nothing he could do to catch someone that fast. Maybe he could set up some kind of updraft corridor that would force him off the ground? He’d never tried to keep a steady fire going that far from himself, but his fingers tingled with heat.

The expression on Miss Mirror’s face widened slightly before Allspades spoke again.

“We should focus on keeping him away from Red. How many people know about them?”

“Not many,” Miss Mirror said. “Our granpdarents, Will, Zero; maybe Janus if she put it together. Zero may have told the Council, but she said she wouldn’t yet. But-”

“That was before Jaeger turned her into a road hazard,” Hawthorne said. “If she wakes up before they catch Jaeger, she’s going to tell them. Until then, Red will be safe. Maybe we could track down wherever he’s staying and pass it on?”

Unimportant faded more into existence. “if i had an idea of where he’s been seen, i might be able to figure something out. even runners have patterns

An idea hit Burnout. “Half the people at the university keep track of that stuff; I might be able to hit up a few of them to figure that out.”

Hawthorne and Allspades started talking at the same time.

Stop,” Miss Mirror’s voice reverberated over the rooftop. They all turned towards her. “I think you misunderstood me. I don’t want any of you to fight Jaeger. For god’s sake, most of you have only been doing this a couple of years at most.”

They all stared at her mutely. Even after what they’d seen, Burnout didn’t think any of them had actually considered not taking on Jaeger in some way.

She kept talking before they could recover. “It’s not a secret who my parents are. Jaeger will come for me, probably soon. I should be able to keep him busy for long enough that the rest of the Council can get there, but if I mess up, somebody needs to watch over…Red.

“I need to go before he starts looking for me. All of you need to stay away from him, and you need to keep Red away too.”

She didn’t wait for an answer before taking off into the sky.

Once she disappeared, they turned back to each other.

how soon can you get me that info?

Burnout shrugged. “I can make some calls. Can’t be too obvious about it.”

“Do it fast,” Hawthorne said. “We’re not waiting for Jaeger to kill her before we do something.”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 114: Hunter’s Sign

*The Night of Trump’s Attack*

Allspades stared at the cocoon. The fight was over.

For a brief moment, relief clouded the pain in his shoulder. Then the day slammed into him.

King was alive. He wasn’t angry about it anymore, or even sad, but even the pain an exhaustion couldn’t hide the emptiness at knowing the truth.

Even after the months he had spent working with the group, thoughts of the Cards had always filled him with warmth. But not that feeling was gone.

Paige’s presence drifted by his side, but she didn’t say anything. He could feel her looking at the cocoon. The bond that connected her to him pulled at his heart as her presence sank to the ground. Her pain echoed through him and lit a spark. A small piece of anger came to life.

The glow surrounded Allspades again, more gentle and less bright than it ever had. He reached down and gave their bond a gently tug. He felt her attention shift.

“He doesn’t deserve it.”

His words were quiet. The group may have been able to hear him, but none of them said anything. But Paige heard him clearly. Her will joined his in grasping the bond. It was the closest the they could come to touching each other.

Allsapdes stayed like that for as long as he could.

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

Allspades gripped his shoulder spun his arm in a wide circle. Pain spread from his shoulder, rolling halfway down his arm and licking at his back like fire.

He ground his teeth, but didn’t stop. He’d never taken this long to heal before. One of his arteries had been ruptured, and his shoulder blade had shattered. A doctor had spent six hours pulling the pieces out and puzzling them back together. If he weren’t a walker, he would have lost his arm, if he hadn’t bled out first.

He’d only lost the sling today.

He stopped moving it, and the pain faded, but it was still smoldering in his shoulder.

His lips pulled back in a grin and he started to run. He leapt off the roof and over the street. The city stretched out beneath him. 10 stories down, the first cars of the morning were just starting to fill the street.

With a flash of white, the glow let Allspades push off of the air and clear the street. His own rush of excitement was mirrored through the bond as the glow let him move through the city faster than he’d ever managed before.

Paige hadn’t talked since the attack, but her constant presence was more comforting than her words had ever been.  She prodded his senses now, directing him to the center of the city. He turned to the south and leapt again.

She had been guiding him around town since the group’s decision to look for Will, but so far there had been nothing solid. Every false lead had the bond twinging with her frustration.

If she was really sensing Will, then he was moving strangely. His path through the city looked like he was searching for something, but a trip that would take a few minutes for anyone who could travel by rooftop had been taking him hours.

The Council Headquarters was in front of him. They’d managed to make the street usable, but the building was still scarred and an empty construction site surrounded the building. Despite that, the museum had managed to stay running. The doors were just opening, and Paige was nudging him inside.

The floor was still roped off where it had been cracked from Adamant’s rampage. Allspades walked to the ropes and stared at the hole.

Paige had been pulling him here. In fact, it felt like he was standing in the same spot as Will but there was no one to be seen. The bond stopped reacting. Allspades gave it a light tug and walked out of the building.

If Paige had really been tracking Will, then looking any more wasn’t going to do any good. Will was somewhere they could reach without help.

He could tell the group when they met up tonight, maybe one of them found something more solid.

Allspades scaled his way to the rooftops again.

Ice crept up his bond with Paige, freezing his heart. He couldn’t’ hear her voice, but it felt like she was shouting in his ear.

His gaze slowly drifted down the block. A black and silver blur raced towards the headquarters, barely visible against the street.

Even as close as he was to the building, the blur passed him before he heard anything. It sounded like somebody had fed concreted into a blender, and the blender won. The construction barriers that had been in the blurs way were flattened, and the building had a new scar.

A large, stylized J had been carved into the building, just above the door. Even among the cracks that littered the walls, it stood out as the most important one of them all. It was a statement that echoed in the primal parts of his brain. Somebody had marked their territory; more importantly, they’d challenged the biggest beast in town.

Allspades stared at the carving in disbelief.

A soft ringing filled his ears, but he didn’t realize it was his phone until it was almost too late.

He caught a glimpse of Hawthorne’s name before he answered. Why was she calling? They had all already agreed to meet up tonight.

“Same place as last time, as soon as you can. I’ll explain there, but this could be bad. Keep your eyes open and don’t take any risks.”

She didn’t let him answer before she hung up.

Allspades stared at the blank screen on his phone and then looked at the carved wall of the headquarters again.

He could make it to the meeting point in three minutes, but this guy could do a lot of damage in that much time. He was fast enough that Allspades wasn’t sure if the entire group could take him on.

There were already people gathering around the headquarters, and a different blur was on its way there. The runner had nothing to do with him, and the Council would be able to handle him on their own.

Allspades turned for the meeting point.

As he jumped from the roof, a black and silver blur came to a halt where he had been standing.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 107: Four of a Kind

Allspades’s scream echoed in the distorted space. Even as loud as it must have been, when it reached Unimportant’s ears it was hollow and lifeless, as if it had echoed one more time than he should have been able to hear before it reached his ears. He didn’t know if that made it better or worse than if he heard it in the real world.

He’d tried to get close to Trump more than once, but he couldn’t reach him. The barrier that had kept him from the Ambrosia was back. At first, he’d was forced to stay a few dozen steps from Trump. He’d gotten closer since, but he still hadn’t been able to get close enough to hit him with the stun baton.

He’d had time before. For all the damage Trump could do, he’d mostly been stuck on the defensive. As far and as hard as he could throw the others, none of them had been hurt too badly. Now, he’d figured out how to hurt them for real with his new powers.

As if he could read Unimportant’s mind, Trump started to laugh. It was quiet, but even with the muted sound of the Between, his laughter seemed to overtake all other sounds.

The barrier fell back a few feet, and Unimportant got a little closer. Trump paused. He didn’t turn to look at Unimportant, but his head cocked to the side like he’d heard something in the distance. Unimportant froze, but Trump started walking towards Allspades. He was saying something, but Unimportant tuned him out.

Six feet. That was the limit of how close he could get, and if he got any closer Trump would probably figure out he was there.

“perfect…just perfect”

It was still too far to hit him with the baton. Unimportant pulled his backpack off and dug inside. He gently moved the chloroform to the side. His bolt cutters weren’t any help either. Rag, water, zip ties, alarm clock, duct tape, flashlight, cell phone-

Duct tape. He could work with duct tape.

Unimportant pulled out his stun-baton and flipped it open. The switch to turn it on wasn’t supposed to stay on if he let go of it.  Copious amounts of duct tape fixed that.

Unimportant gripped the handle and turned towards Trump. Six feet. Missing this would be the worst way to fail to save the city.

Unimportant drew back and tossed the baton at Trump’s back. It spun in the air. He could hear the way its echo changed the moment it switched from in the Between to the real world; it was the same time that Trump stopped talking.

Trump whipped around with his hand already raising. But it was too late.

The baton slammed into him. The scream that filled the Between this time was much more pleasant.

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

Trump was hit.

Allspades couldn’t move his arm, and he’d resorted to chewing his cheek to keep from screaming. There was blood flowing into his mouth but he barley noticed.

This might be the only chance he gets.

What little of the glow he could still muster gathered at his feet and launched him forward. He wouldn’t be able to get his feet under him for a second leap, but he didn’t have the strength for a second lunge.

The glow shifted to his good shoulder. For a moment, he looked at Trump through the light of the glow and he saw something dark and shining crawling over him. Then he slammed into Trump.

Both of them hit the ground. Allsapdes rolled over and off of Trump. His second bounce landed on his bad shoulder and his vision went white.

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

Trump was down, but not out.

Burnout dropped from the sky and planted a knee in his back. It was a heavy blow, but damage wasn’t the point.

Burnout’s armor melted off of him and molded to Trump’s prone form, forming bands around his limbs. The bindings bolted Trump to the floor, but they’d only be able to last as long as Burnout could stay near Trump.

Trump had recovered enough to struggle.

Burnout dug his knee into Trump’s spine and gripped the bands closest tho Turmp’s shoulders.

“Get. Off!”

Trump couldn’t focus the blast enough to do damage, but Burnout still felt himself being lifted off of his back. His grip on the bands held firm, but his legs lifted off the ground until they were pointing straight into the sky.

Trump gave another cry and Burnout’s grip wore out. He was launched into the sky and the bands disappeared.

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

Burnout was out of the way.

All of the roots Hawthorne had grown throughout the battle burst from the ground beneath Trump.  Trump had managed to break her connection to them when he hit them earlier, but she’d found what was left beneath the ground. They wrapped around him, twisting and knotting themselves until he was completely immobilized.

The buildings around the cocoon started to shake.

One of the roots began to rapidly sprout flowers. A thick musky overly sweet scent filled the air, but it would be a hundred times stronger in the cocoon.

The buildings grew quieter and the ground stopped vibrating.

Hawthorne limped to the cocoon. What little reserve of power she’d built up after the zeppelin was gone and her outfit stopped helping her walk. Her leg collapsed beneath her.

Unimportant caught her. He wrapper her arm around his shoulder and helped her keep walking.

Burnout slowly approached from above. He couldn’t fly any more, but he’d gotten enough lift to keep from crashing into the ground. He had to land on all fours, but he was able to get to his feet and join them on her other side.

Allspades came around the far side of the cocoon. His right arm hung limply at his side, and there was a long strip torn from the bottom of his shirt. He’d stuffed it in the hole in his shoulder to stop the bleeding.

The four of them stared at the cocoon.

People began wandering out of the buildings. A few stared at the cocoon, but most looked up and down the street.

There was a small figure in red and white at the far end of the street, but the crowd passed between him and Hawthorne and he was gone by the time they were gone.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 106: Beneath the Surface

Will snapped his fingers and the man went flying into the wall.

Will had been worried that the mercenary Allspades and Unimportant had captured was more loyal to, or afraid of, Trump than he’d be able to work through. Apparently, being stuck in a trunk for a couple of hours wasn’t enough to get him talking, but it looked like he’d reached his limit.

“Where’s your mage? No one could do this if they weren’t in the city.”

“We hired an earth mover to dig some tunnels near the center of the city. The mage is meditating in the center of them. They’re under the-”

“I know.”

Will gripped the man’s shirt and pulled him to his feet.

“You have ten minutes to get out of my sight.”

He didn’t waste any time in running down the block. Will watched him until he turned the corner. He wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon.

The key was still in the jeep.

Five minutes.

It would take Will at least five minutes to reach the tunnels. And then they’d have all the heroes they needed to take down Trump.

They would be able to hold out that long.

They had to be able to hold out that long.

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

Trump’s focus was on Hawthorne. She’d dug her staff into the ground and was trying to hold onto it, but Allspades could see her grip slipping.

Allspades decided to try one of her tricks. He grabbed as much of the glow as he could and shoved it into the ground.

He could feel it digging, but without being able to see it, he could only guess at how close to Trump he’d gotten.

He glanced at Hawthorne just in time to see her lose her grip on her staff and fly backwards. Trump’s head slowly swiveled towards him. He had to be closer enough.

The glow erupted from the ground a few feet behind Trump. His eyes had time to widen slightly before it slammed into this back and sent him into Allspades’s outstretched arm. There was a satisfying gasp of air that was quickly covered up by the wind rushing past Allsapades as he was thrown straight up into the air

As he rose above the battleground, Allspades got his first breath of fresh air since the fight ahd started. The dust cleared from his lungs, but the clean air let him feel the way the dirt and sweat had coated him like a second layer of skin. He flexed his fingers and felt it cracking.

At the peak of his flight, Allspades flipped over. The area around their fight looked ready to collapse. The foundations of the buildings Trump had thrown were half flooded from the broken pipes; the ground around them was quickly turning to swamp. The buildings that were still standing weren’t much better. Trump had thrown the three of them into them hard enough that A few of them were starting to tilt. Broken glass littered the street and the ground at Trumps feet was constantly swirling with dust.

Burnout was on the offensive again. He had gotten close enough to singe Turmp’s shirt with his sword, but he couldn’t hold out against Trup’s push long enough to do more damage.

Hawhtorne was back on her feet, but it didn’t look like she could take much more of this. Trump’s attention was already on her; he wasn’t going to let her get close enough to her staff to reist his push again.

Allspades’s fist tightened. The glow spread out behind him. There was nothing for it to push off of, but he felt his course change just enough.

Allspades dove headfirst to the ground, with his arms at his side and his legs straight behind him. The glow receded to the very edge of his skin, and he shot straight for Trump.

Trump had just raised his hand towards Hawthorne when he paused and looked up at Allspades. He tried to change targets, but wasn’t fast enough to stop Allspades’s descent.

For the second time in as many minutes, Allspades hit Trump, ramming him with his shoulder. This time, the two of them slammed into the ground together. Trump only bounced once, but Allspades kept going, skipping along the street like a rock in the water until he slammed into the next building.

More dust fell on top of him. It filled his lungs and made it impossible to breath without his lungs trying to turn themselves inside out to force the dirt out. He pulled himself to his feet, hacking all the way.

He stumbled his way out of the building. Trump was still on the ground, but Hawthorne and Burnout were nowhere to be seen. The sun was glaring at him; bouncing off the shattered glass and making it impossible to keep his eyes focused on Trump.

There was a brief movement from Trump on the floor.

“Let’s try something new.”

The back of Allspades’s shoulder exploded. A marble sized glob of blood shot out from it and slammed into the wall behind him. Then the pain came.

Allspades screamed.

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

They had all left.  The ground wasn’t shaking as much and enough of them thought they’d be safer at home that nobody was willing to stay. He’d stayed quiet the whole time. None of them had even looked for the kid pretending to be a hero.

Red Racer skittered out from the space between the shelves. The guns had found him there. He had to keep moving; It was the only way to avoid the guns.

He watched his feet slowly take one step after the other. He didn’t know where he was going, but there was a strange comfort in knowing that he was still moving.

He felt the guns fading to the back of his mind, but they stayed there like an that lived beneath his skin so he couldn’t scratch it.

And then he heard the scream.

The guns were right behind him.

He ran.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

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.”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

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!”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

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.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 99: Pain

Hawthorne flexed the roots wrapping around her feet and launched herself forward. The movement was familiar, normally it would almost be comforting. Right now, every step mad her heart beat a little faster and the sweat soak a bit further into her palms. And despite that, she could barely keep up with Allspades.

He had taken off the moment Will was out of sight. Normally she could match him, even at his full speed, but the twisting corridors of the zeppelin gave her no chance to build up speed. He barely glanced at the doors they passed, and she could hear him muttering under his breath at each one.

He turned a corner, and she had to thrust her foot forward to kick the wall before she slammed into it. Allspades drew further away. She had to forcibly rearrange the roots at her feet to send her down the next corridor. It wasted precious seconds and she had forgotten to breathe until she was already moving again.

She tried to call out to him, but didn’t have enough breath to make the sound leave her throat.

He pulled further ahead, and each step of hers was throwing her a little less farther than the last. He was already five doors away from her.

The root along her left leg stiffened too soon. She managed to get her right leg beneath her before she fell, but she felt the muscles in her hip stretch and roll as she pulled herself forward. There was a sharp pain that vanished almost as soon as it started.

Allspades turned a corner ahead.

She tried to kick the wall, like she had before, but when she twisted to kick with her left leg, something in her hip moved the wrong way. She flipped over her side and her back slammed into the wall. A heavy thud echoed through the metal, but the sound didn’t reach Allspades.

The roots retreated back into Hawthorne’s clothes. The pain in her hip had faded, but a dull ache still throbbed deep in her muscles.

Allspades turned another corner and was out of sight. She tried to call out to him again, but her throat was dried and the cracked sound that came out was too quiet to echo down the halls. She gently pressed two fingers into her leg and had to grit her teeth against the pain.

She would probably need to make a crutch. If she was really lucky, she might be able to limp without one, but she wasn’t going to be catching up with Allspades.

Hawthorne leaned back against the wall and gasped for air. She tried to pull an apple from her vest, but the seed refused to grow in her hand.

How long had it been since she’d woken up in her office? She’d lost track of time, but it had been almost dawn when they teleported onto the ship. She’d never used her powers for this long before, and she felt drained in a way that she couldn’t describe. Whatever energy fueled her powers had dried up, and she didn’t know how long it would take to get them back.

She needed to rest, possible even sleep, and she really needed something to drink. But first, she had to get somewhere she wouldn’t be found.

Hawhtorne managed to claw her way up to wall and rest her weight on her good leg. She kept most of her weight on the wall as she stumbled down the hallway.  The first door she came to held a small conference room; there hadn’t been anyone in there when the spell hit, but a tray of water bottles was off to one side.

She grabbed one and hobbled to the closest chair. Even the half a steps worth of weight she put onto her leg was enough to send stars flying across her vision.

She took a drink and stared at the door.

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

Allspades ran. Paige’s voice had grown quiet, leaving only a vague pulling in one direction.

Trump. King. Thomas. The names burned in his head.

King was there. He was in the middle of some scheme or plot that would almost definitely end with him on top, just like it always did. But for the first time, he didn’t want King to win. But more than that, he needed to be the one to stop him. Because he might be the only one who could talk him out of it.

Or maybe he was just kidding himself. Paige could have talked him out of it, Queen could have convinced him, but he had never been the kind of person to talk his way out of a fight. He wasn’t going to avoid a fight, no matter how much he wanted to.

With that thought burning in his mind, Allspades ran. The sound of his footsteps echoed in the empty halls. There was no one who could stand between him and King.

He stopped.

Hawthorne wasn’t behind him, and he had no idea when she disappeared.

He felt the pull toward King grow stronger; he could be getting the Ambrosia already.

Allspades turned around and ran back the way he came.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>