Burnout

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 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 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.

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

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.

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                      Next Chapter>>>

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.

<<<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 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 100: Dragon Knight

There were more mercenaries patrolling the hallways now.

“Judging by every videogame I’ve ever played, this is the right direction.”

A wave of agreement brushed across Burnout’s skin. Unimportant had started opening doors for him to duck into whenever he needed to hide. The patrols had started checking the rooms less thoroughly, but he’d had to be clever with his hiding spots more than once.

How many mercenaries were there? He’d seen Adamant take out at least a hundred just a few hours earlier. Even if they’d had twice that many on the streets, how did Trump get so many of them on the zeppelin?

Burnout passed the open door before he saw it. By the time he slid to a stop and ran inside, the shadows of the mercenaries were already edging their way around the curved hallway.

The room was mostly empty; the only place to hide was behind a freestanding counter in the center, packed with machines he didn’t have time to identify. He dove behind it. If the mercenaries decided to do anything more than glance in the room, he would be found.

The footsteps were almost at the door. It was tempting to hold his breath, but anyone who could hear him breathing wouldn’t need that to find him.

The footsteps stopped, and the sound of them entering the tiled room rom the hallway clacked into his ears. Something slammed into the ground a few rooms away. The sound of feet scrambling on the tile was brief and the mercenaries were gone.

Burnout waited until he couldn’t hear them on the carpet anymore.

“Thanks.”

Unimportant’s presence flickered in his mind. Burnout stood and brushed the dust off of his costume.

“We aren’t going to get there in time are we?”

“probably not” Unimportant’s voice echoed. He faded into partial existence a few feet in front of Burnout. “the patrols are happening more frequently…it is likely you will be unable to move without notice soon”

“What are my chances if I just fly past them?”

“you would attract the patrols…if you found trump or the ambrosia…you would be facing an army…and i would likely be left unable to help you”

He was right. Anything Burnout did to move faster would just paint a glowing target on him.

Flames started to lick the bottom of Burnout’s feet.

“what are you doing”

“Do me a favor. If you can’t find a way to lock that stuff up, throw it down a drain or something.”

Unimportant didn’t get a chance to answer. Burnout flared the flames at his legs and took off down the hallway.

It was a matter of minutes before the first patrol spotted him, but they barely had time to be surprise before he shot past. He couldn’t hear them shouting into their communicators over the rush of the wind and the roars of his flames, but he could only hope that they were letting everyone know where he was.

The next group of guards had already pulled out their guns, but Burnout wasn’t interested in a fight. He let his flames wash over himself. They grew larger and hotter and soon he was nothing more than a ball of blue-white fire flying through the halls of the zeppelin. The sound of their guns managed to pierce through the wall of flames, but the bullets melted before they reached him. The liquid metal cooled quickly after it reached his skin and fell off in pellets.

He couldn’t pull out his phone to check the map, but he knew the hallway had to end eventually, and he remembered a path that branched off and led to a large room near the back of the ship. Hopefully, there would be enough room to keep the mercenaries focused on him.

There was a hallway coming up, he hoped it was the right one.

He couldn’t turn at this speed. Burnout flipped and shot the flames from his feet as strong as he could without turning the hallway into the oven. He slowed quickly, but that was the easy part. A new jet of flames shot from his hand, twisting him until his feet were skidding on the wall. Burnout shoved off the wall, feeling the metal warp under the heat, and blasted down the corridor. The flames form his feet weren’t strong enough to stop the turn, and when he tried to compensate, he was thrown into a spiral.

He corkscrewed down the hallway, but he managed to stay in the air.

Before he was up to speed, he managed to hear shouts and stampeding footsteps coming after him. Hopefully, it was enough of them to put a dent in the patrols.

He found the room from the map. It was the hangar. It was mostly filled with helicopters, but a few spots had craft that looked like they belonged in a video game.

Burnout came to a stop and hovered in the center of the room. He only had a few minutes.

Burnout remade the shell of flames that had melted the bullets before. He wasn’t sure how long he could keep the mercenaries here. Adamant hadn’t been entirely right when he said that Burnout didn’t have a way to take normal enemies out of the fight. He’d spent the equivalent of weeks stuck in his own head with a dead dragon teaching him how to use his fire. In his head, the fire had been solid, and Azor claimed he could do that in the real world too. He’d just never gotten it to work without a few hours to concentrate on it.

“Okay, I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life throwing around dragon fire. Time to figure out what I can do with it.”

Burnout closed his eyes and held his hands out in front of him. Making fire solid was about a lot more than concentrating the flames; that was the first thing he tried and it just made them hotter. He had to change the property of the fire. The parts of him that understood the science behind fire cringed at the idea, but the part that had talked to a dragon inside his own head was a bit louder.

He felt the heat shield contract closer to his body. He could still only work with solid fire if it touched him, and if he did it right then he needed to be able to see more than the heat shield would let him.

The effort was getting to him. He could feel sweat starting to bead on the back of his neck. The armor formed around him slowly. He couldn’t see what it looked like, but with any luck it would look at least a little intimidating.

Next was the hard part. Burnout brought his hands together. The fire extended up between them, slowly tapering off to a point. It was almost twice as tall as him, but in his hands it was feather light.

Burnout flourished his sword in his left hand looked down. The mercenaries had entered the room, but their guns had dropped. He slowly allowed himself to drop to the ground.

Fire erupted from his back and he shot forward. He brought his sword high and swung it wide. Four mercenaries were struck by its blade and rocketed towards the wall.

Some of them managed to shoot, but the bullets either melted or bounce off of his armor.

“This will work.”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 97: Infiltration

Pain.

It had been cold at first like an ice bath that had started at his fingertips and slowly crawled up his arms and flowed around his body until it covered him completely. And then it grew colder, until it burned, until his mind was pushed further and further back and the only thing left was the desire to escape it. He would have done anything to escape it.

But what came next was worse. It started at his fingers again, the nothingness. He couldn’t look down, but he knew, with absolute certainty that the tips of his fingers were gone, and then his toes. The nothing crawled up his body to his neck. When it finally reached his head, he thought it would be over. The feeling didn’t stop, even with the knowledge that his brain no longer existed, his mind refused to stop.

Burnout would have screamed if he still had lungs.

The return happened all at once. The nothing, the pain, the cold, it all disappeared, and he was somewhere new. Burnout gasped, filling his lungs with air in a single burst.

“What the hell?” Allspades said. It was impressive that he was able to talk at all. Burnout couldn’t get enough air in his lungs.

“It fades quickly,” Will said. He was the only one who hadn’t grown a little paler in the instant it took them to arrive on the blimp. “In a few seconds, you’ll barely even remember it.”

Burnout was about to argue, but the words dies on his lips. His entire focus was on the trip through the teleporter, but even so, it was slipping away from him. Slowly, the room came into focus.

The room in Beck Industries had been stark white with an unadorned silver platform in the middle. They appeared in a dark conference room surrounding a circular table. The projector had been left on, but the computer it was connected to had long since fallen asleep, leaving the room bathed in the blue light bounding off the far wall.

“Beck’s scientists have been working on their teleporter for years. It can get you to the other side of the planet in a second, but they’ve never been able to get rid of the discomfort. Human minds can’t handle the experience. We forget it almost as soon as it happens.”

“That doesn’t make me want to try again,” Hawthorne said. She was shivering, but her voice was strong.

Unimportant seeped into Burnout’s consciousness. “i don’t know what lab we’re looking for…trump will be difficult to find.”

“We’ll have to split up,” Hawthorne said. “Allspades, come with me. Unimportant, Burnout, head to the left. Will…”

“I’m heading to the control room. I might be able to figure out where the Ambrosia is being kept from there. The labs were placed wherever they had room, so you’ll have to move quickly to find them all. I should be able to let you know over the PA’s in your area if I find anything.”

Allspades had already started moving, and Hawthorne had to hurry to keep up. Will was out the door right after them.

Burnout ran down the corridor, his footsteps echoing on the tiled floor; he couldn’t see Unimportant, but he could feel waves of emotions coming off of him anyway. It was a reversal he’d never felt form him before.

As fast as they needed to move, they had to glance into each room they passed to be sure they didn’t miss their target. So far, there had only been conference rooms and offices. The zeppelin had been mostly empty, but there were a few people collapsed at their computers.

They couldn’t find any labs.

Burnout’s steps started coming faster. He opened each door a little harder than the last, barely glancing in the rooms before moving on.

“stop.”

Burnout slid on the tiled floor, nearly falling backwards before catching himself.

“guards ahead…go for the room three doors back.”

There wasn’t time to question him. Burnout moved as quickly as he could without making noise. There had been a small meeting in the room; its members had all slumped over on their chairs.

“far side…head on the table…cover your eyes…can’t fight.”

Unimportant’s voice was fading into nonexistence, but Burnout got the message. Surprise was the only advantage they had. He hurried around the table and stole an empty chair. If the mercenaries only saw the top of his head, then they’d never notice he was in costume.

He ticked the seconds off in his head while he tried to force his breaths to come slower. Despite his best efforts, he could feel his heart jump up to his throat with every beat. He could hear them now, their soft footsteps punctuated by slamming doors as they checked the rooms one by one.

Their footsteps slowly drew closer, echoing louder and louder through the empty hallway into the conference room. They marched in such perfect rhythm that he couldn’t count how many there were. Even with his eyes wide open, he could only see the red cloth of his outfit.

He had to fight to not hold his breath when they reached the next room over; it was growing harder to keep his breathing steady.

The sound of boot meeting wood slammed into him when the door was kicked open. With his eyes covered, he could only imagine the two or three mercenaries scanning the room with their guns swerving back and forth. He swore he felt the moment one of them passed over him.

They didn’t say a word. As one, they backed out of the room and the left the door squeaking on its remaining hinges.

Burnout waited until their footsteps faded down the hallway, and then waited even longer.

“you’re good.”

Burnout raised his head off the table. Unimportant was still hidden from him, but he nodded in thanks anyway.

The broken door hung wide open, as did every door he could see up and down the hallway. Burnout made a mental count of them and held back a sigh.

“This is taking too long. We can’t keep looking like this. Keep close.”

With the doors open, Burnout didn’t even have to slow down. He barely glanced in the offices before moving on. A wave of confusions that followed him told him that Unimportant wasn’t far behind. The first five offices were useless to him, the next five as well.

“There has to be one…” he muttered.

“what are you looking for?”

Another door open, and he found it. One of the sleepers had passed out on his keyboard.

“This,” Burnout said. He pulled the man back off his computer and rolled his chair out of the way. “I probably can’t get into anything important, but I might be able to find something to help us out.”

The interface was a little strange, of course Beck wouldn’t let his employees use a public OS, but it was similar enough to what he was used to. Burnout got rid of the windows he had open and started at the desktop.

“He still has his new hire documents here. And…there’s a map.”

“no printer though.” There was a rustling sound and then Burnout found a phone in front of him. “take a picture.”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 96: Ambrosia

Will was pacing. He’d started as soon as Unimportant mentioned going into Beck Industries, and he’d been getting a little faster with each turn.

“What was he looking for?”

“I only caught a glimpse of the document; he-” He nodded at the once-again unconscious man they’d dragged from the car “-locked it back up before I could get to the computer. He woke up on the way over and we managed to get him to tell us where it was before passing back out. He called it Power Nectar.”

Will’s fist slammed into the wall. “He was supposed to destroy it. He promised us that no one would ever get another chance to touch the stuff.”

“You know what it is?”

Will nodded, his voice grew quiet.“Ambrosia. If you believe the stuff mages say about it, then it’s all that’s left from when gods spent more time wandering around earth. The Council got their hands on it about the time they took over from the first generation. It can give certain walkers a massive power boost, but it kills most of the people who drink it. It was used once, and then it was supposed to be destroyed. Beck must have decided to try and improve it instead. If Trump really found some on one of Beck’s zeppelins, then we don’t have time to think of a plan. Let’s go. Put him in the trunk.”

Will headed out the door and straight for Allspades’ and Unimportant’s stolen car. The group quickly followed behind him. Unimportant’s masking grew a bit thicker as he ran alongside the others.

“So he’s trying to get stronger?” Burnout asked. “That’s why he took over the city?”

“He wouldn’t be the first,” Will said. “The last time someone was after it, they barely stopped him from blowing up half the country. It’s as close to infinite power as a normal walker can get. Trump might just consider the city worth it.”

“No,” Allspades said. “If he just wanted the drug, then putting on a show like this isn’t making it any easier for him. Trump could have gone after it directly and he probably would have been able to drink it before anyone realized he needed to be stopped. He said he wanted to make the city an example, that stuff is just phase one.”

They reached the car and Will hopped into the driver’s seat. He glanced at Allspades sliding into the seat in the back. “You talked to him.”

“He came to talk to be before he blew up the library. He said that he want to show people that walkers weren’t tools to be thrown at problems and forgotten.”

“Normally that’s the kind of speech they save for the end. He’s from you’re old crew isn’t he? King?”

Allspades paused, but quickly nodded. “He’s holding onto a grudge from the old days. King was always an asshole, but we never doubted that he was one of the good guys. I don’t know what could’ve driven him this far, but I need to stop him.”

“No you don’t,” Hawthorne said. It was the first time she’d spoken since she’d seen Will stopping Adamant. “The last time you tried to take on something from your past you ended up running off to kill them. I am not chasing you down again. When we catch up to him, we’re going to take him down together.” She turned to Will. “If he drinks the Ambrosia, what’s going to happen?”

“He’ll…probably die,” Will said slowly. “The last time there were a couple dozen walkers drinking it, and only three of them made it through alive. Half of them died right away; the rest managed to use their boosted powers for a few hours before they died; one of them lasted two days.”

Trump’s men had abandoned the streets, but craters and cars, abandoned or with sleeping drivers, still littered the roads. Will had to stop talking while he snaked his way past the remains of rush hour on Main Street.

“…he won’t die,” Allspades said. “King was always an arrogant prick, but he earned it. The only reason I’ve seen one of his plans fail is if he didn’t have all the information before he started. If he really plans on drinking that stuff, then he’s sure he’ll survive.”

“Even if he survives drinking it, it takes a few minutes to build up, so you have a window to take him out.  After that, the only thing you can do is run; even the weakest of the walkers who drank it could have taken out a city block in an instant. Someone who can shoot metal like he can could probably level the city in one go. It’ll cool down to about half that level after a day or two, but until then, he’ll be unstoppable, and the effects never wear off for good.”

“One in eight; almost 90% chance we don’t even have to do anything,” Hawthorne said. “In some jobs, that’d be enough to ignore the problem.”

“A job where the city isn’t at stake,” Burnout said. “You get to sleep at normal hours, have a consistent schedule, and you get paid too. It’d almost be like winning the lottery.”

“I’d be dead or back on the streets in a week,” Allspades said. “I could barely stand working at the library and I could literally disappear for hours without anyone noticing. Sitting at an actual desk might kill me.”

“you’d have to wear a nice shirt too.” Unimportant said.

Allspades shivered. “Don’t remind me. I only have one shirt that even has a collar; having to wear one every day might actually kill me.”

Will coughed, but he was hiding a smile behind the clenched fist he used to cover his mouth. The group’s attention shifted back towards him. “Anyway; most of Beck’s zeppelins have labs on them, but only one of them has the kind of security he would need for Ambrosia. The best way to get there is to get a lift from one of his supercopters.”

“Supercopter?” Allspades asked.

“I didn’t name it. Unfortunately, everyone who knows how to pilot one is probably asleep right now.”

“So how are we supposed to get there?”

“…have you ever watched Star Trek?”

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>

Chapter 94: Stand

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

Again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another flash, and the missile exploded far behind him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<<<Previous Chapter                                                                                     Next Chapter>>>