Red Racer

Chapter 132: Red Racer Saves the Day

The air had grown cold under the sunless sky. It bit into his skin as he rushed through the city until he could feel goose bumps rubbing against his suit. But he barely felt the cold; he was too excited. He hadn’t been able to run this fast since his sister started taking him on patrol with her. He didn’t want to stop.

More than that, he was excited to help. Tina had sent him out here to warn the others, because Eclipse was turning the monsters into something worse, but he had been dying on her couch. He had been trying to figure out the best way to leave since the sky had grown dark.

He was a hero; he wasn’t supposed to sit on a couch and watch other people save the city. His sister would never do that. His parents would never do that. None of his friends were doing that. It wasn’t fair that he was the only one who had to stay behind, just because he was younger.

He was Red Racer. A superhero. Being a superhero meant that it didn’t matter how old he was; he was supposed to help, no matter what happened.

The wound of gunfire echoed in his mind and he ran faster.

Superheroes didn’t let danger stop them. They ran towards danger, because that’s where they needed to be. That’s where Red Racer was going to be.

The battlefield opened in front of him. There were heroes on the outskirts. A lot of them were hurt. Some of them were helping the hurt ones. Red didn’t slow down, but he didn’t have to. His eyes danced along the bloody wounds and missing limbs and settled on their faces. His friends weren’t there.

Red Racer kept running. There were people ahead he could help.

He had an idea of where Allspades was, and where Unimportant would probably be. He could see Hawthorne and Burnout in the sky, slowly gathering a following of other flyers. There were a few silver heroes up there; one of them might be his sister.

Red Racer darted around the next building before running up the far side and stopping at the top. If Allspades wasn’t fighting, he’d be on a roof.

Allspades wasn’t hard to find. With the shadow-dome over the city, he stood out like a firefly. He and a few other heroes had gathered below the flyers on the street below. Red Racer moved straight for them, launching himself from building to building at top speed.

He gave a quick glance up to the flyers, but didn’t see any of them heading his way. When he looked back down, Allspades was staring straight at him.

Red stopped right in front of him. Before Allspades had a chance to react, Red already heard the whispers.

“What’s a kid doing here?”

“He’s going to get himself hurt.”

“He’s going to get someone else killed.”

“Isn’t that the kid who fought Jaeger?”

Red Racer ignored the voices, even though his fingernails were digging into hi palm. Even though his his teeth were clenched. Even though he could see the guns hiding behind his eyelids. Red Racer ignored the voices.

“Allspades we need to-“ He barely and a chance to start. Before the questions started.

“Red? What are you doing here? I thought you were going to stay with Mach.”

“She said-”

“Yes he was.”

Red flinched at his sister’s voice. He knew that tone, and he really didn’t want to turn around to see the face that went with it.

“And he has ten seconds to explain why he left or be in her living room.”

“She sent me. She said he’s trying to make them smarter.”

“What does that mean?” Allspades asked. “How are they getting smarter?”

“She didn’t say; she was looking at the screens-eens and then she was talking really fast-ast and not making any sense-ense and then she was practically shouting at me to get down here and warn you that he was gonna make them smarter and stronger and that we had to stop them before they wake up-up and-”

Red could feel himself running out of breath, which was odd because he hadn’t been out of breath since he’d gotten his powers. A hand rested on his shoulder. He slowly-for him at least-turned until he was looking in his sister’s eyes.

“Calm down, Red. It’s okay. You need to think. Did she say anything about what she meant by wake up?”

“When-en…” Red took a deep breath. And then another. “When she was looking at the screens, she said that they were fighting for control, I think she was afraid of one of them winning.”

Light flooded the sky. Red was facing the other way, and he still had to shut his eyes against the burning light. He heard a few heroes scream.

The light faded, but the screaming didn’t stop. When Red opened his eyes, the other heroes were already moving. His sister was the only one staying behind.

“Red, you have to go back to Mach’s.”

“But I’m already here!”

“You delivered the message. You did a good job, but you can’t fight these things. You need to leave.” Miss Mirror forced her brother to look her in the eyes. He tried not to see the way her entire body was shaking with every word. “Please, go. I can’t let you get hurt.”

“But-“ She didn’t’ let him finish before she flew away. “But that’s not fair.”

Red turned and watched his sister fly at the monster.

The heroes couldn’t even get close. There were no more randomly swatting tentacles or slow crawling movements. The blob of flesh wouldn’t stand still for more than a few moments before every one of its muscle’s would move at once, launching it over heroes and onto buildings. Its tentacles pierced into the towering sky scrapers and let it cling to them like a wasp nest.

Red couldn’t see clearly, but every time it jumped, there were a few heroes who couldn’t get out of the way in time, and the flesh monster was growing bigger.

His sister was only just arriving at the fight. He couldn’t help watching her. She was a flying tank, she could take hits that would flatten people twice her size and laugh them off without a scratch. The flesh monster could slam into her at full speed and it wouldn’t even make her flinch.

But he couldn’t shave the feeling that she was in danger. Something about the way it moved…about the way the heroes were disappearing. It jumped again, and Red watched closely. It was just coming up on another hero when a flash of light nearly blinded him. It happened quickly, almost too quickly for him to see, too quickly for someone who wasn’t as fast as him to have any chance of seeing.

Red launched himself forward. Even before he leapt off the firs roof, he could feel his wake stretching out behind him. He didn’t have long, but he couldn’t go straight here either.

Red jumped from building to building.  Hours of fighting had damaged most of them, and the broken pieces started to follow Red.

He circled the fight twice but he still didn’t have the kind of wake he needed. But he also didn’t have any more time. He saw his sister staring down the flesh monster. She had absolute confidence in her powers to protect her.

Red dragged his wake behind him and charged at the monster clinging on the wall of the skyscraper. His sister shouted, but he didn’t stop. Red grabbed the gravity creating his wake and flung everything he had at the flesh monster, shooting all the rubble he had gathered forward, and shooting himself backwards, straight at the ground. He had the chance to hear the monster scream before he was launched too far. He smiled.

He felt the air forced out of his lungs at the change in speed. He couldn’t breathe with the air rushing past him. He didn’t have a purchase, there was no way for him to stop his fall, but he closed his eyes and trusted that he would be fine.

His sister grabbed his outstretched hand. WHne someone grabbed the other he had to open his eyes. Hawthorne. He heard them screaming as they fought to slow him down and they only barely stopped their fall before his feet touched the ground.

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Their voices rang out together.

Red Racer gasped for air. He took three greedy lungfulls before he answered, but he was still out of breath.

“It’s…not…eating people. It’s..teleporting them.”

“What?” His sister’s voice snapped through the air. He couldn’t see her eyebrows, but even under her mask he knew they’d jumped to hide behind her bangs.

“It’s happening fast; I can barely see it, but its opening portals before it actually hits them.”

“Are you saying that thing’s a slider?” She was calming down, but her voice still echoed around them.

“It’s made of heroes,” Hawthorne said. “Who knows what it can do?”

Red looked into his sister’s eyes. His eyes were filling with tears. “You can’t get close; you can’t. Your power won’t protect you”

“Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Okay Red. You managed to hurt it. No one else has made it scream. Do you know what that means?”

“It means…” Red paused, and he could tell his sister was waiting for him to finish. “We need to hit it with a lot of stuff all at once.

“Unless we can get enough sliders to shut its power down,” Hawthorne said. “Unimportant was going to gather them. I don’t know how long it’ll take them to get here.”

There was a moment of silence. Red wanted to say something, but he was afraid his sister was going to send him away again. Then she turned to face him.

“Red…” she began. “Can you do that again? Hit it like that?”

“Yeah!” Red bit back the shout. “I mean… of course I can.”

“Do it. The second its shields are down, hit it with everything you can get. We’ll warn the others.”

Red started running before she finished. He’d grabbed the best pieces of rubble from the closer buildings, so he had to widen his run.

He caught glimpses of the fight between the buildings. Heroes were trying to attack from all sides with as much as they could, but the flesh monster had curled up on itself and none of them hit. Red didn’t stop running though.

He ran for minutes on end in endless circles. He was going as fast as he’d ever ran, maybe even faster. He didn’t have to look behind him to know that his wake had grown beyond what he had hit it with the first time. It had grown beyond what he and his father had traded blows with. When he was the tail end of the wake coming up in front of him, he just tightened his circle.

Through the rushing wind, he heard his sister’s voice. “Its shield is down, clear a path!”

Red Racer charged for the monster.

A thousand yards of debris followed him.

The flesh monster was on the ground this time. They had managed to lure it onto a main road, giving Red a clear path. He charged faster and faster, adding more to his trail until the last moment. There was too much to let him flow around him like he had before. A block out from the blob, Red leaned back and started to slide.

He put his arms over his face and let his wake rush over him. An earthquake flowed over his head. Shards of glass and pebbles bit into his arms and bounced off his helmet.

The monster’s scream was quiet compared to the onslaught flowing past Red; and it died before the torrent ended.

When the last of the noise finally died, Red clumsily got to his feet. His right leg would support his weight and he nearly fell back to the ground. Where the monster had been, there was only a mountain of rubble built up along the wall of the building.

There were people cheering in the distance. Red could see them, but he couldn’t hear them.

His sister and friends were moving towards him. They were shouting and waving.

Red started limping towards them and raised his hand to wave back.

His world turned white.

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Chapter 124: Shatters

A figure in silver darted between him and the guns just before they fired. His sister walked slowly towards them; the bullets hit her and ricocheted into the ground two feet in front of her. The Elephant’s henchmen ran out of bullets before she’d walked halfway to them.

One by one, they dropped the guns, and feeling slowly returned to Red Racer’s legs. The henchmen dropped to their knees and put their hands behind their heads before she said a word. She placed a hand on each of their heads in turn, and they fell down unconscious one after the other. In less than 4 minutes, all 10 of the henchmen were laying on the floor.

Red jogged over to his sister’s side. She glanced down at him, a frown creasing her face.

“If they surrendered this easily, it’s because The Elephant is long gone already. I need to stay here and wait for the cops to come and pick them up. You should go home.”

“But-”

“Doing as I say is part of the deal. You need to go home and rest.” She glanced sideways at Red and sighed before letting a light smile to form on her face. “I’m sorry, but you froze again. You know you can’t stay out here after that.”

Red Racer wanted to argue, but the last time he tried, his sister had hidden his suit for a week.

“I’ll see you at home.” He hadn’t meant it to sound as abrupt as it did.

“I’ll pick up something to eat on my way, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Sirens echoed down the street as Red sped off. His fingers dug into the palms of his hands. Normally, it would only take him a few seconds to get home, but he ran up to the roof of the first tall building he could find and stopped.

The roof was mostly loose gravel with a single concrete footpath leading from the stairwell to various air ducts. There was no one up there, and there wasn’t going to be anytime soon.

Red Racer took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The air was crisper up here; cleaner than down in the streets where the filtering zeppelins couldn’t get to it so easily. The Air conditioners hummed all around the rooftop, but there was no other noise. Even the cars on the streets below couldn’t break the silence.

He didn’t want to be angry at Sara for sending him home. But he couldn’t help the tightening in his chest when she gave him an order. Her being right only made it worse.

Red took another breath. He felt the air rattling down to his lungs and shivered. The guns were back, floating beneath his eyelids. He shut his eyes tighter, so tightly that he began to see spots, but he couldn’t make them go away.

He opened his eyes and forced himself to look past the phantoms. He should get home.

“Doing as I say is part of the deal. You need to go home and rest.” Miss Mirror glanced sideways at Red and sighed before letting a light smile to form on her face. “I’m sorry, but you froze again. You know you can’t stay out here after that.”

Red Racer stared blankly at his sister. His face grew cold as the blood slowly drained from it. The henchmen were all lying unconscious on the ground, in the exact same positions he remembered.

“Red?” She turned fully towards him. “Are you okay?”

He barely managed to nod. This couldn’t be real.

“Are you sure? You look like you’re seeing a ghost. Look, wait over by the alley and I’ll go home with you. I’m not sure if you should be running right now.”

Red managed to stumble over to the sidewalk and lean against the building. Sirens echoed down the street.

Something was wrong, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Had he done something? Had he run in some kind of time loop? No…he’d been standing still when it had happened. Or had he? He tried to focus on the memory, but the details had faded away, he knew that time had fun back on itself, but he couldn’t remember where he was when it happened.

He needed to tell his sister. She would know what had happened. Or she would be able to talk to someone.

“Red!”

The shout shook him out of his stupor. HE turned to face his sister. She was hunched over and examining his face.

“I think you might be coming down with something.” She grasped his arm and squeezed it gently. “Come on, you’re not running like that, so I’m gonna have to carry you home. You need to get to bed.”

He didn’t have time to talk before she scooped him up and launched them both into the sky.

“Sis-“ The wind drowned out his voice.

Red glanced below them. He stared at the tallest building on the way home, but could only barely understand why.

Miss Mirror held him close and flew high into the air above the clouds. He felt one of her arms flick below him and her outfit changed colors, easily blending in with the sky.

The dropped quickly, faster then gravity should have pulled them, but they landed on the roof with the grace of ten cats.

Red followed his sister down to their apartment.

“Change into something warm, I’ll grab the thermometer.”

“Rachel, wait.”

She didn’t stop rummaging through the drawers. “Yeah?”

“I’m not sick. I…I saw something weird-eird.”

She stopped rummaging and turned towards him. Her mask had been peeled away and he looked straight into her eyes.  He hadn’t echoed like that in weeks.

“I’m not sure how to explain it, but, things started happening twice.”

“You mean like déjà vu?”

“No. I was already on my way home, and then I was back with you and you said the same thing you just had.”

Rachel stared into his eyes without blinking until he looked away. His gaze landed on her hand, gripping the counter so tightly that it had turned paper-white.

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Chapter 121: Running Down

Red stumbled, and Jaeger’s next hit forced his feet off the ground. The debris trailing him fell to the ground and didn’t rise again.

Red hit the ground and bounced until he slammed into the far wall. Dust blocked the world from his views.

He let the dust settle on him, but he didn’t move.

Jaeger was faster. Every time they got close to each other, Jaeger go that much faster than him. He had been playing with him the whole time, and it seemed like he was finally done playing. Even if Red got up and ran as fast as he could, he would never catch up.

His eyes were closed, but Red didn’t see darkness. His hands were covered with blood, and he was shaking so much that he couldn’t focus on anything else. Something clicked in his ear.

The guns were back. He couldn’t hold the image back any more, and they swam to the font of his mind like they’d never left. A single gunman was standing in front of him. Red could look straight down the gun’s barrel.

Shadows crept out of the barrel. Long tendrils of blackness slithered through the air, reaching towards him. He wanted to run away, but he couldn’t move. Through the thickening darkness, he could see the gunman preparing to pull the trigger. Red only had one option left.

He opened his eyes, but the image didn’t vanish. Jaeger stood in the middle of the clearing; the faceless man with the gun stood next to him.

Debris orbited Jaeger; even the dust that had settled onto Red was drifting away into his field.

Jaeger stared at Red until the last of the dust drifted away, and then he turned to the heroes he had piled to the side. The gunman turned with him.

Red’s eyes were still trying to move at super speed.  Jaeger strolled over to Red’s friends, but to Red, it looked like he was underwater.

Red’s eyes grew big, and he tried to get to his feet. His heart was racing, but the blood in his veins was crawling. He forgot the fire in his legs as ice started to grow in his chest and his insides grew hollow.

If Jaeger was underwater, then Red was stuck in syrup. Every inch of movement seemed to cost him minutes, and Jaeger grew that much closer to his friends, to his sister.

He finally got his feet beneath him and reached for his power. There was nothing there. His breaths grew shallow and he reached further and further, but the power slid away from him.

Jaeger was close now, he was only steps away from them now. The gunman had stopped moving; he turned and stared at Red. Even though he didn’t have a face, Red knew he was smirking. He turned back away and raised his gun.

Red’s heart stopped. His nails bit into the palms of his hands. The gunman took his time, trailing his weapon across each of the figures lying on the floor. Finally, it rested on his sister.

Red started running. Even without his power, even though he would never make it in time, Red ran straight for Jaeger.

His shoes scuffed the ground. The sound echoed through the battlefield.

Jaeger’s head whipped towards him. For the briefest moment, his eyebrows arched, and his mouth started to form a word.

There was a trickle of power, barely within reach, and Red snatched it up. He ran through the gunman, and the figure slinked into the back of his mind again.

Jaeger finished turning. His shock had turned into a smile. He started to run.

To Jaeger, Red might as well be standing still, but Red’s eyes could still see Jaeger circling to his left. Before their powers clashed, Red grabbed everything he had and shoved it at Jaeger.

Both of them went flying, but this time, Red was ready for it. There was more power there now and Red grabbed everything he could before it vanished again. He landed on his feet and took off.

They had the same power. Every time they hit, whatever power they let go of was up for grabs. That was why, even now that Red had managed to push Jaeger back just a little, he still wasn’t moving as fast as he should have been able to.

Red felt a smile grow on his face. Jaeger was still faster than him, but that could change.

Jaeger was moving again, but Red stayed still. His eyes followed Jaeger as the villain circled towards him.

It had worked once.

The ground was shaking beneath them, but neither paid any attention. Neither could afford to focus on anything else.

Jaeger was smiling as he reached Red, but Red flexed his power at the last second. He launched himself at full speed, shoulder first into Jaeger, shoving everything he had into the attack. It wouldn’t have worked on most runners, they would see it coming and be able to adjust, but Jaeger had let Red get the drop on him once before, and he didn’t think it could happen twice.

Red barely slid back, but Jaeger flew across the battlefield before he was able to stop himself.

There was even more power up for grabs now, and Red got over half of it.

He couldn’t stay still and keep all the power he had grabbed. Red Ran straight for Jaeger.

The two of them circled each other, spiraling towards the center of the battlefield.  As they got closer, the pieces of debris following them started to crash into each other. A low grinding began to fill the air as the twin spirals of dust started to grind against each other.

They were almost going the same speed now. When they finally clashed, they froze in place. They were both desperately grabbing at the other’s power, and neither of them was winning.

Jaeger’s fingers curled into a fist and slammed into Red’s face.

The power slipped between the gaps in his grasp and he slammed into the ground. He felt something snap in his arm, and he had to freeze to keep form screaming. The shaking ground reverberated through his arm. He couldn’t focus through the pain.

“You are strong.”

Red looked at Jaeger. The villain’s voice was smooth and oddly comforting. Despite that, Every word sent a shiver down Red’s spine.

“But you do not know your strength. I-“

Red launched himself forward. His feet didn’t even get a chance to hit the ground before he slammed into Jaeger and desperately grabbed all the power he could.

It wasn’t enough; Red hit the ground again, and Jaeger barely moved.

“It seems that you still need to learn patience.”

Red scrambled to his feet. He was good arm was still on the gorund when he sped up and had to fight the rest of his way up while he was running.

They started spiraling again, but this time, Jaeger was faster. The grinding filled the air again. It masked the sound of the shaking ground, but only barely.

There was a shout from somewhere, and plants burst from the ground.

Red jumped; he sailed over the growing plants.

Jaeger was moving too fast. One of the roots sprung up right in front of his foot and he tipped forward.

A glowing figure slammed onto Jaeger’s back, and Red saw his eyes bulging. More importantly, he felt Jaeger’s grip on the power loosening.

Red desperately clawed all of the loose power towards him.

Red landed gently outside the ring of plants. He turned back. Allspades was glowing; and the light was digging into the ground around him.

Jaeger was trying to force Allspades off, but he couldn’t lift him up.

Two more figures floated towards the two.

Burnout was using the armor he’d seen on the news, but it started to fade as chains of fire wrapped around Jaeger’s form.

His sister kept floating towards Jaeger. She landed next to him and collapsed to her knees. She raised her fist and slammed into Jaeger’s head, breaking straight through his power and knocking him out.

The glow vanished from around Allspades, and he collapsed to the side. Burnout was sitting on the ground, but he managed to keep the chains on Jaeger.

A hand rested on his shoulder.

Red met Hawthorne’s eyes, and he knew she was smiling under her helmet.

The two of them walked to his sister’s side, and she immediately pulled him into a hug.

The others were looking at them.

Red felt blood rush to his cheeks, but he smiled and hugged his sister back.

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Chapter 120: Clash

Red Racer barely made it out of the hospital before he started heaving.

He’d never run on an empty stomach. The pulses of his power echoed inside of him, and churned the empty space. The costume his sister had neatly placed into the closet of his hospital room was tight across his chest and made it hard to breathe. He stumbled, but he refused to fall. Red grabbed a hold of his power and forced it to keep him moving.

The air swirled around him and spots began to dance on the side of his vision. There were gunshots echoing in the back of his head. His heart thundered in his ears, but he just ran faster. Dust and trash started trailing behind him, lifting into the air and swirling in the vortex of his wake.

The city blurred past him, but he saw everything.

Almost everyone was staring at their phones or standing outside of bars with their eyes glued to a TV. Some were talking, some were shouting, some were frozen in place. Everyone looked scared.

Most people on the street this time of day were old enough to remember Jaeger thirteen years ago. It wasn’t something they could forget. Red had only read about him online, but the thought of a runner who spent his entire career going after heroes struck a chord in the pit of his stomach.

His parents had gone against Jaeger half a dozen times before they captured him, but they had only sought him out once. Jaeger had come after them time and time again; he’d never been paid and he didn’t hold a grudge, but he kept coming.

Now he was after Red’s sister, he was after Red’s friends, and Red wouldn’t sit on the sidelines. The faceless thing that had been haunting him wouldn’t stop him.

It was a straight shot to the battlefield. Red’s eyes stopped dancing and focused on the figures in front of him. Jaeger was dragging Burnout towards the others. Right now, he was moving at a crawl, but if he sped up, he could kill all three of the long before Red got close.

The steady, slow clacking of a machine gun echoed in his brain. His breath grew ragged and his eyes could only focus on Jaeger’s slowly stalking form. His heart sped up, but the blood in his veins felt like syrup.

Red grabbed his power. It was in him and all around him and there wasn’t enough. Red reached further and tore his power free. The trash in his wake fell to the ground and his ears popped.

Red’s power slammed into Jaeger and for an instant, they both froze mid-air. Red’s hearing returned and he and Jaeger flew apart a loud clap. The wind tore free form their meeting point, picking up the unconscious heroes and carrying the away from the center of the destroyed block.

This wasn’t like Frankenstein, Red was ready to catch himself. He slid backwards, nearly to the edge of the battlefield.

Jaeger clenched his fists and stopped without touching the ground before dropping to his feet.

Jaeger looked straight into Red’s visor, and they both ran.

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Jaeger reached for the gravity in the area and pushed himself forward. Across the battlefield, his son did the same.

His smile threatened to split his face in two. The predator had kept his promise. His son had gained the strength that had awakened Jaeger, and now he was standing before him, free to bask in the glory of the hunt.

But first he would have to be tested. And then he would have to be discipline; all children needed to be taught to respect their parents. It was the only way they could learn how to reach the potential their parents saw within them.

Jaeger started out slow; slower than his son had hit him before. First, he had to give the boy some confidence. It was only when he tore that down that he could teach him his first lesson.

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

Red grabbed everything he could. It wouldn’t be as much as he had used to hit Jaeger with, but it was enough to meet Jaeger halfway across the battlefield.

A drumbeat of rushing air reverberated throughout the battlefield. Each time the two of them met, their wakes would force the air and debris to clash around them. Each time they separated, their wakes would mix and clatter until finally separating into two distinct trails.

Their powers never let them touch. They’d clashed a dozen times in the seconds they’d been fighting, and neither of them were scratched.

Jaeger was moving at the same speed as Red. That wasn’t right. Jaeger was one of the fastest men alive. He should have been at least three times faster than Red.

Red desperately grasped for more speed. His legs pumped tirelessly, carrying his power with them and launching him farther with every step.

Jaeger matched him perfectly.

The fight hadn’t even lasted a minute, but Red could feel a fire spreading through his legs. He hadn’t asked anything of them for over a week, and they couldn’t give him what they used to.

Red grabbed even more speed, pulling the power to his legs so that even if they slowed down, he could keep his speed up for just a little longer.

At their next clash, Jaeger swung at him a little too early, and Red slammed into hi. Their wakes collided again, but more debris was following Red.

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

Jaeger reached for more gravity. He had moed too soon and let the boy get a hit in. It wasn’t a mistake he could repeat if he wanted to teach his son just how much stronger he would become under proper guidance.

The gravity didn’t respond. Jaeger reached again, but there was nothing there to grab.

The boy was coming at him again. Jaeger turned to meet him, but half of his mind was elsewhere.

Stone and metal slammed into each other as their wakes met. Jaeger grabbed for the boy’s collar, but he missed. His son’s tiny fist bruised Jaeger’s forearm.

They separated and Jaeger felt it. The boy had sped up again. He was pulling out more speed than Jaeger had ever expected, and the new bruise would be a constant reminder.

It wouldn’t happen again. Jaeger reached deeper and pulled out enough gravity to match the boy’s new speed.

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

Red kept reaching for more power, but he couldn’t force himself to go any faster. He had gone faster than this before, but the power wasn’t there for him to grab.

Red reached desperately for it, constantly reaching for more speed.

He clashed with Jaeger again. The grin on his enemy’s face made Red’s frown deepen. He wanted nothing more than to run as far from Jaeger as he could, but he forced himself to keep going. Their wakes slammed into each other and Red felt more power, just barely out of reach. He stretched his powers towards it, grabbing a small handful and adding it to his own speed.

A few ticks of the clock later, and they clashed again. It was impossible, but Jaeger’s grin had grown even wider. He came elbow first for Red’s face. Red flinched away from the blow, and had to slide around Jaeger to keep from being hit.

In that instance where their wakes crashed, Red felt his powers being ripped away from him. He grasped desperate for more speed, but it had vanished

And now Jaeger was moving faster, and his wake had grown larger.

He had stolen some of Red’s speed.

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Chapter 119: Watch

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

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

“John.”

He nodded back, but remained focused on the news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do they need to know?”

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

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

Mach slowly nodded. Her eyes closed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Burnout should be right behind her.”

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

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

“You’re not useless,” Tina said.

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

“I own enough mirrors to know the look.”

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

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

“So how do you get through it?”

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

“That’s enough?”

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

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

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

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

And then the sphere exploded.

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

Jaeger was already charging at Hawthorne.

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

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

Unimportant started to fade and jumped to his feet.

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

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

He opened the door, and something blurred past him.

Unimportant and Tina both looked at the now empty bed.

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

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

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

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Chapter 113: Hunter’s Call

“Graagh!”

His fist broke through the computer monitor and out the other side.

They were already dead.

His return home was almost complete. Ten dozen convenience stores and grocers were emptied in his wake. By the last dozen, he’d been in and out before the cops had chosen a car to send over.

His last stop was here, an empty library. He needed to learn how his prey had grown. Even the greatest hunter must learn to respect his prey. After all, he had been defeated once before. Defeated by trickery and deceit, true, but defeated all the same. And then, as an extra insult, his enemies had stolen from him.  They took his drive, his reason for hunting, and claimed it as their own.

And they were already dead. His prey had been stolen. Another had dared to claim his prize while he was caged. Someone had broken the hunter’s code, as if he wouldn’t find out, as if his defeat was more than a chance for his hunting grounds to repopulate.

But even he could not stalk this thief. A hunter does not fear his limits, but he must know them. A monster devoured his prey whole. A monster who stood above prey and predator alike and who destroyed them all equally.

He would not challenge that monster. He would not endanger his hunting grounds by exposing them to such a beast. But even if he could not have his revenge, he could reclaim his treasure.

And he would teach his son exactly what it meant to be an apex predator.

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His sister was sleeping. She thought he was too.

He hadn’t slept since the attack, but he wasn’t sure how long ago that was anymore. The days had blended together, and there were a few that he couldn’t remember at all. The doctor’s visits had grown farther apart, but the nurses came by as much as they ever had.

He wondered if his sister believed the doctors. They’d told her it was all in his head.

Hawthorne had visited at one point. It was the first time he’d seen her without her mask, but he would have recognized the voice even if she hadn’t talked about their adventures.

He wanted to talk back to her, but he couldn’t. He’d wanted to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. She’d never done anything but made him feel like he belonged. She’d even let him be important.

He was the only one to blame. He could get out of bed. He could tell his sister to stop worrying and tell Hawthorne it wasn’t her fault. He could go home, go to school, and spend time with his friends. He could even put his costume back on and fight.

Just like he could have saved her.

She died because of what he did.

The doctors were right. It was all in his head. He knew that, but he wouldn’t get out of bed. He was frozen.

His sister’s phone rang, and he shut his eyes. She groaned and fumbled for her phone. He opened his eyes a hairs breadth and saw her face lit by the screen.

She got out of the chair as she answered the phone, and made it out to the hallway before talking.

“It’s three in the morning.”

There was a long pause. He opened his eyes enough to see her standing in the doorway. She was completely frozen, even more than when he’d seen her on the floor after the sleeping spell hit. Her phone slowly slid out of her fingers and crashed onto the floor.

“No.” She dropped to her knees with a thud and scrambled the phone back to her ear, holding it with both hands. “I-I didn’t catch that.”

She froze again. Her off hand fell down from the phone and scraped along the floor.

“Three days. He could be here any second. Why didn’t-?” He had to close his eyes to slits again when she turned back to look at him. He had never seen his sister so afraid. There were tears slowly rolling down form her wide unblinking eyes, and her lip trembled.

“He’s in the hospital. I don’t know if…Okay just tell me what I can do.”

She was silent for a few minutes before she hung up without another word.

She stayed on her knees for a few minutes before she grabbed the door frame and pulled herself to her feet. The screen on her phone had already gone dark, but she stared at it blankly.

Her fingers began to fumble at the keypad.

“Rose-yes I know. Please tell me you found a lead.” She started moving, pacing. “We really need him right now. I…can you stop by in the morning, first thing? No, wait.” Her voice grew firmer, but she started to talk more quietly. “Meet me outside, we’ll find somewhere to talk. You-we need to be ready. Just let me know when you’re here, I need to make more calls.”

She hung up. Despite what she said, she didn’t call anyone immediately. She stumbled over to the bed and he had to shut his eyes completely.

He knew she was staring at him. He felt the bed shift when she grabbed the railing. Neither of them moved.

Something wet hit his hand. He risked cracking one eye open.

She was crying. It was a different kind of crying than when she’d been on the phone. Her lips were moving but there was no sound. There didn’t have to be.

‘Why?’

One word repeated over and over again.

More tears hit his hand. They began to slide down off of it until they would be absorbed by the sheet beneath him. The wet spot had started to grow beneath his hand before she began to slow down. She reached up and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Beneath the tears, they were bloodshot, and the skin around them was and angry puffy pink.

Her lips stopped trembling and firmed into a thin line.  The next word she said bit into the air like an icy wind. He knew immediately that he would never forget the name.

“Jaeger.”

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Chapter 111: Persist

He had never hated himself more than he did at this moment. He had accepted his fall, but he never expected to resort to such petty thievery. But if he was to recover, he had no choice.

He opened another can of ravioli and downed the contents. It was cold and sloppy and it tasted disgusting, but he forced himself to swallow it nonetheless. Just like the cans before it, the food seemed to vanish almost the instant it hit his stomach, absorbed by his body almost faster than he could eat. He could feel his muscles growing strong again, his skin stretch to accommodate his former girth.

He devoured can after can or food, growing stronger with each bite. His hair grew out and fell away, only for new, fuller hair to take its place. His heart sped up until it felt like it was going to rip itself free. And then it froze. Despite that, he kept eating, until it started again. He died over and over again, each life lasting just a few minutes longer.

Finally, his heart steadied out. He tossed the last can over his shoulder and ripped open a pack of towels to wipe his mouth. He made a fist and all the cans surrounding him lifted into the air before slamming down. Many of them were instantly crushed, but most remained at least mostly whole.

“Still weak.” Even his voice hadn’t fully returned. It had lost its presence and it rubbed his throat raw. He was going to need all three days after all.

A siren sounded outside the door and he scoffed. He didn’t need to run. He could destroy every man this backwater town threw at him without opening his eyes. But he still needed time to recover before the heroes found him. He could let the fools live.

The cops ran into the store, but all they saw were empty shelves and a piles of discarded scraps.

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Three days after the attack, Rose went back to work.

When she’d shown up in crutches, no one had looked twice, except for Barry. He’d been calling her constantly since the attack but she’d left her phone in the office and hadn’t been able to retrieve it. The entire first day, she saw him glancing at her through the office window, and as the day dragged on, he kept shifting around in his seat.

She’d made him drive her home before she told him the story.

As always, he was the best audience she could hope for. He knew when to gasp and when to stay quiet. She never had to repeat herself.

And then the story was over, and she collapsed back into her chair. It was as if she had had to relive the entire fight.

Barry had helped her to her bed, and she got the best rest that she’d had in days.

A week later, and she was finally free of the crutches. Will had been missing for two days. Today, they were supposed to meet up and decide what to do about it.

But first, she had to go to the hospital. Tina had called her there two days ago, and introduced her to Red Racer…Mitch’s sister.

Rachel looked up from her makeshift cot on the chair next to the hospital bed. It was obvious that she hadn’t left since Rose had seen her there two days ago. Her hair was frizzed and clumped in strange places from the awkward bed and there were dark circles under her eyes.

“Are you sure this is okay?” Rachel asked. “I don’t want you to get in trouble at work.”

“Half the city’s in the hospital. Most of my office can only work half the week because of it. Now go home before I call Tina.”

She nodded and shut the door behind her when she left.

Mitch lay on the bed in the same position he always seemed to be in. He stomach twisted a little when she saw him.

There was a spare chair near the door that she dragged over. Rachel had had the TV on the news. It was another report of the damage, and Rose quickly changed the channel.

She thought she saw movement from the corner of her eye, but when she turned to look, Mitch was as still as ever.

She waited for a commercial and muted the TV.

For a short time, she let the silence fill the room.  But she couldn’t look at him.

“I’m sorry.” He didn’t react to her voice, but she kept going. “We never should have left you in that store. One of us should have stayed with you.”

Tears rolled down her face, leaving wet trails that felt frozen in the cold room.

“We never should have made you fight with us. You’re not supposed to be worrying about villains and heroes. You’re not supposed to have to see the kinds of things that happened. We should have sent you home during Asclepios’ attack. We shouldn’t have taken you to the cave to find Burnout. We should have sent you home.”

Finally, she looked at him. He was as still as ever, eyes glued to the TV.

“Please. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please get better. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.”

There was a restroom connected to his room. She ducked in to clean her face off, but it took her a few minutes to stop crying.

Voices filtered through the door and she froze. She opened the door a crack, but didn’t see anyone.

The TV was unmuted. She had left the remote sitting on Mitch’s bed.

He looked the same as ever.

“Mitch?”

She sat back in the chair, keeping one eye on Mitchell, but he didn’t move again.

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She watched Allspades leap over from the next roof. He was the last one to arrive. His arm was still in a sling, but he’d managed to get his costume on despite it.

She looked around, Red Racer and Mach were still missing, but despite that, this was the first time their group had met since the attack.

Everyone moved a little slower than they had beforehand, and a twitch in her leg reminded her why.

Allspades joined them, and one by one she watched them turn towards her.

“I went to see Red today,” she said. She felt test building behind her eyes again, but this time she held them back. “He’s still not responding. I don’t know how to help him, and I don’t know if he’ll ever get better. What I do know, is that we lost one member of the group already, and I don’t want to lose another. I don’t want to lost Red, and I don’t want to lose Will.

“There are others looking for him. They have more experience than us, and they’ve known Will longer. But I don’t want to sit around and do nothing, and I know none of you do either. So we’re going to look to, we’re not going to lose anyone else.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Chapter 105: Taking Action

They hadn’t screamed the second time. They thought that if they stayed quiet, they could avoid the end of the world.

He ground his teeth. The silence in between the shockwaves was almost as bad as the shockwaves were. At first, it had lasted long enough that the guns would go away before the next one hit, but now they stayed, a constant reminder.

People were dying outside. Even if he they weren’t screaming, even if he couldn’t see their bodies, he knew that they were dead. There was too much noise, too much destruction.

If something as quiet as a bullet could kill somebody, something as loud as this must be killing thousands.

His legs tingled and itched with a need to move, but he ignored it. If he was too slow to save one person, there was no way he could save anyone.

He wasn’t fast enough.

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He wasn’t fast enough.

After dropping the others off, Will had taken the copter back to the Council’s HQ. He’d come in too fast and half crashed it on the front lawn, but it had been for nothing; none of the walkers there could fight something like this, and none of them would be any help evacuating the battlefield.

They needed a runner. Actually, they needed four or five runners, and that probably wouldn’t be enough.

There were too many civilians in the buildings around the fight. A lot of innocents had probably already died when the first two buildings collapsed.

For the second time in a few months, Will broke down a list of walkers in a class and tried to figure out who might be able to help.

It didn’t look good. A lot of them were dead, he couldn’t get in touch with the ones out of town, even if they could make it in time, and he’d confirmed a lot of the rest were asleep. Anyone he might have missed would have been out doing something already if they could.

There was only one runner Will knew was awake, and he couldn’t help either.

There was a tingling in his fingers, it was familiar in a way he couldn’t quite grasp. He pushed the feeling away. He had to focus on the problem at hand, and that meant finding someone who could get enough people out of that building. Which meant he needed to wake them up.

The mercenaries had pulled away from the HQ, taking their unconscious allies with them. Given an hour, he could track a jeep down and force them to tell him who had cast the spell.

But there was one lead he hadn’t had time to follow up.

On the scale of walkers, Will wasn’t very fast. Most walkers who put some thought into how to move fast could figure out a way to outrun him. But today he pulled out everything he could.

The warehouse where they’d left the jeep wasn’t far, but he wasted precious minutes getting there. He just hoped that the kids could last long enough for it to matter.

There was a muffled banging from the trunk.

Will quickly popped it open and caught the flailing fist of the man within.

“We need to talk.”

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They weren’t going to last much longer.

Hawthorne wasn’t sure if the others had noticed, but she was far enough back that it was impossible not to.

They hadn’t gotten a single good hit in the entire fight. Every time one of the others got close enough to score a hit, Trump managed to push them away. Her plants were being shredded as soon as they grew. She’d tried growing them directly beneath him, and he’d shattered the entire street around them before they got close.

Worse than that was the buildings. Trump’s attacks were reckless, shot-gunning bits of metal fast enough that she could spot perfect holes bored into the buildings closest to them.

She was running out of seeds too. Other than a few altered ones, she only had her staff left. She had barely used her staff since Asclepius’ attack. It hit hard, but she’d figured out how to incapacitate her opponents without bashing them over the head.

She pulled the seed out anyway. The staff might actually be tough enough to avoid being shredded by Trump’s attack.

Burnout was charging again. Apparently he couldn’t use any range attacks and keep his armor up at the same time, and he couldn’t survive Trump’s attacks without it.

Now might be her best chance. The roots around her legs moved for her. It still hurt but less than running on her own would.

Burnout couldn’t hold out against the push any longer. He was sent flying backwards and had to scramble to avoid running into a building.

Allspades was still nowhere to be seen, so Trump’s focus switched to her. There was brief pause before she felt the push.

She took the chance and swung her staff, willing it to grow as she did.

Trump’s off hand emerged and shot a few scraps of metal at the staff. The impact travelled up the staff and weakened her grip.

Then she felt the push. It felt like her internals were being shoved to the back of her skin and it only barely held together enough to carry the rest of her along with it.

She slammed into the ground and rolled along the street. Allspades must have come back, because Trump’s push disappeared.

Her staff was on the ground, halfway between her and Trump. She got up to one knee before having to rely on her plants to stand the rest of the way.

“He can only hit one of us at a time,” she said.  “But he knew I was coming when he was concentrating on Burnout. We can’t guarantee he won’t be able to sense you if you get too close, but I’ll need my staff if we want a distraction long enough for you to get to him.”

She got the rest of the way up and found her staff close at hand.

“Thanks. Do you know what you’ll do if you get close?”

I have an idea” Unimportant’s voice echoed.

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Chapter 103: Anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now he never would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“KING!”

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