Escape 19-VI

Same Old Dull Routine.

The whipcrack retort of the gun (not ear-shatteringly loud, though; apparently, a subsonic round) cracked out across the rooftop, and everyone’s heads snapped towards the source. Occam, though, standing a step back from Foresight in a half-crouch, didn’t look away. That, and the mouth-agape shock on his face cued the rest of us to turn our gazes to the bullet’s intended victim.

He was absolutely still, frozen halfway through a lunge, and his free hand, the one not holding the knife, was raised close to his chest. It was exactly the sort of moment that would be followed with a scarlet stain spreading across his clothing, or him toppling over to the ground. Instead, his hand shifted slightly, fingers uncurling, and there was a soft, dull ping as  something fell from between them and landed on the ground.

“No fuckin’ way,” Tide whispered next to me.

Motherfucker.

Caught.

The bullet.

The crumpled piece of brass spun a few times, an uneven circle, before slowing to a halt. Slowly, a smug, smug smirk spread across Foresight’s face, and he lowered the hand. “Better luck next time,” he said.

Apparently, the boy took it as a cue, because there was another crack, and again, the hand came up, almost impossibly quick, and caught it out of the air. No, that wasn’t it. He hadn’t moved faster, he’d moved earlier. Slightly before the gun had actually fired, I was pretty sure. I hoped it was just that, because if he was actually faster than a speeding bullet…

Look, I don’t know what I’d do, or who I’d do it to, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.

The second shot shocked everyone back into action. Occam lunged, both swords stabbing forwards, and Foresight threw the bullet into his face. Acting on a hunch, I turned my attention to the boy, and sure enough, he was already squeezing the trigger for another shot. Because it’d definitely for sure work this time!

Well, time to be useful, I guess. He gave an alarmed cry as the gun suddenly tore itself out of his hand, flipping up into the air with a brand new dent halfway down the barrel. I’d actually expected the bullet to tear out of the gun completely when I redirected it upwards, but the gun had such a neat arc in the air that I couldn’t complain. He clutched his hand to his chest as it clattered to the ground in front of him, obviously in pain. His index finger was almost certainly broken, considering it had been inside the trigger guard at the time, and there was a pretty decent chance it had damaged some other stuff too.

On the flip side, I was back down to zero in the power department. But, then again, that had quickly become the standard over the last few days, so it wasn’t as much of a blow as it might have been. Being useless? A bit more of one.

Foresight had done something, and I saw, in the corner of my eye, one of Occam’s blades fly out and embed itself in the ground, accompanied by a nasty crunching sound from its creator. It had actually landed quite close to us, only a foot or two away, and I idly wondered what would have happened if it had been flung away with more strength and hit me or Tide.

“Too close for comfort,” she said, voicing the thought aloud.

“Yeah,” I agreed, as Foresight landed a good gash on Occam’s left arm. “Typical - oh, brace.” I grabbed onto a nearby block, Tide doing the same, just in time for Freefall to come streaking out of the sky and hit the forcefield again.

The expected impact didn’t come, though, and it only took a second to figure out why. Pincer had shaped his umbrella upwards, making it concave, and the shockwave had followed its contour, fizzling out uselessly into the sky. Huh. Cleverer than I’d have thought, from any of the people below that barrier. Then again, as my little taunt with Junction had reminded me, I didn’t really know anything about any of the Cabal beyond powers. They all existed in one category in my head, “goons”, maybe with some modifiers for how annoying they were to fight. Maybe Pincer was actually a tactical genius, who knows.

The more important part was that, without the threat of the shockwaves dispersing her, Edith was now free to act. And we had absolutely no way of stopping her. And, with the angry, hungry look she was giving us, she obviously knew it too.

“Get Jess back,” I said to Tide. Then, in a louder voice addressed at Foresight, “Stop playing with your food, asshole.”

He looked back at me, sneering, and without even a glance back in the other direction, hurled the dagger straight through Occam’s foot.

I rolled my eyes as he screamed and collapsed to the ground. “Next time do that from the beginning.” He flipped me off and turned back to his downed opponent, watching him with amusement as he clutched at his injured foot and swore.

A soft ripple of force hit me from behind as Freefall landed. She wasn’t injured, but her posture was worn and tired. “Annoying,” was all she said. Seeing her return, Pincer stopped maintaining the forcefield, hands dropping to his sides and slumping over. Edith didn’t move, though; probably giving him time to to rest so he’d be able to shield her properly when she did.

“Got that right,” Tide muttered. “Had bloody nothing to do this whole feckin’ time.” Under ordinary circumstances, I’d have been more worried about the resurgence of the accent, but frankly, there were worse times for it.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m sure that won’t be true for much longer.” Edith still wasn’t moving, and it was starting to freak me out. “Anyone have any trump cards they’re hiding up their sleeves? Because now would be a really good time to pull them out.” A thought struck me. “Tide, does your power work on air?”

“Sort of? It feels like it does something, but nothing actually happens.”

“Well, try that, I guess. Can’t do any more harm than doing nothing.” Yeah, it was definitely fear tactics; she’d started coming apart from the outside in, a much slower dissolve than the near-instantaneous one she normally went through. “Anyone else?”

Freefall shook her head. “I can already hurt her,” she said. “Just need to be able to get to her.”

And there it is.

I clicked my fingers. “Right. Right, okay. Yeah, that’s it. Take out Pincer, and Freefall can block her off from being able to switch.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be much easier,” Tide said doubtfully. “Especially if we’ve got her hounding us at the same time.”

“I’ve got a good feeling about that thing with the air,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.”

“How are we going to break through his shields, then? If Freefall does it-”

“Too much energy,” she confirmed. “Wouldn’t have any left.”

“Right.”

“We’ll figure something out,” I repeated. A snarl from the side cut off any further discussion, and we looked over to see Occam struggling to his feet. He was obviously off-balance, one foot damaged, but he was standing, and he still posed a threat.

Foresight snorted, and began moving to hit him again, but I waved him down, and he actually cooperated, surprisingly enough. “With them,” I told him as I hobbled past, pulling the discarded sword out of the ground. “You’ll be more use.”

I flipped the blade in the air, then caught it by the handle, facing the right way up, and faced Occam. “En garde,” I said dryly, “motherfucker.”

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Escape 19-V

Getting Caught In The Rain.

Just for posterity’s sake, my injuries: power fatigue, one completely fucked-up shoulder, whatever damage getting knocked unconscious had done to my brainpan, too many tiny lacerations to even count, phantom pains from the injuries I'd had healed, and, most importantly, one very, very heavily bruised ego. And that one wasn't going to go away any time season.

So, in terms of actual fighting, I was useless, which irked because I was easily the most competent of the four of us (I'm sure Foresight would've contested that if I said it out loud, but he'd have contested that the sky was blue if I said it). Which meant my only possible utility was giving orders.

As Occam, who had apparently decided he could take us all, strode towards us, I turned to my teammates. “Foresight,” I barked, gesturing at the nearing enemy. “Occam. Keep him off us.” He was the next best at hand-to-hand, and Occam’s super-sharp blades were the most immediate threat to us. Whatever enhanced reflexes he had gave him the best chance of holding him off or even winning. “Freefall, same as in the park. Keep Crabcakes occupied.” In a quieter voice, “How’s your power?”

She made a tiny so-so gesture, and I nodded in acknowledgment. She vanished, and as I turned back, a curved brown umbrella shield appeared over the other four Cabalists, Pincer raising his arms above his head, concentrating on holding it in place. It was uneven, the side closer to us heavier and thicker, and I’d bet that if Freefall and I pulled the same trick as last time, he’d just drop that side down and absorb the hit. Still, it kept him occupied, so it’d have to do.

Foresight sneered at me, but stepped out in front of us, pulling a knife from his belt. Occam’s pace didn’t slow as he leant down, swiping both hands through the ground. A shower of powder sprayed out, and he came up holding two short swords made entirely of concrete. Sloppy grip, I noted to myself. He was holding them out to either side, like a bloody anime character. Man, if I had that power…

He swung one sword as soon as he was in range - slightly before, actually. Leaning smoothly out of the way, Foresight knocked on the back of the blade as it went past, adding additional momentum and throwing Occam further off balance. The Cabalist stumbled, only barely able to get a blade in between Foresight’s swinging fist and force him to abort the blow. He growled, and lunged forward with both swords, but Foresight somehow managed to step forward and angle his body in such a way that he slipped between them. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. He practically bodychecked him, slamming a hip into his midsection and sending him reeling, then followed it with a series of short, sharp blows to his midsection, stepping forward as Occam stumbled back, never letting him recover or get back to effective range with the swords.

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t unequivocally the best.

Their fight was taking place almost equidistant between the two groups, and with the clutter of the rooftop, it meant neither had a clear shot at the other, and so we’d ended up with a duel of sorts. The two in the middle, and the rest of us watching. I wasn’t exactly complaining, but it didn’t really make that much sense. For us it did, sure; neither of us had any way of getting around or attacking them from where we were. Thing was, Edith didn’t have the same problem: she could pseudo-fly, and she had Junction. But instead of capitalising, she was just standing under the umbrella, glaring, as she was wont to do. Junction actually seemed like he was thinking the same thing, gesturing at us, but Edith just snapped something at him, pointing one finger at the sky.

“Hey Skew,” Tide said. She was taking the brief respite as an opportunity to get her breath back, bent over and resting her hands on her knees. Her head was looking up, though, and she’d seen the same interaction I had. “Just a thought. How stable is that other form of hers? To, you know, wind and stuff.”

Pieces clicked into place. “Not very,” I answered. “Better than a real cloud of salt, but; not very.”

“So she can’t move about in it because if Freefall lands, she’ll be blown away.”

“That’s the impression I’m getting,” I confirmed.

“Could we use that? Knock her out of the shield just before the impact?”

I considered it. “I dunno. Can you?”

“From here? Not without hitting Foresight.”

“He’s a big boy, he can handle it,” I said dismissively. “Keep that in reserve for now; I think we’re about to have company.” Junction, having been shot down by Edith, had apparently decided he was more than man enough on his own. Considering both of us were injured, it probably wasn’t actually that terrible a judgment call. He disappeared into a jagged line of rent space, appearing behind us from an identical opening, fist already swinging at me. I should have been able to dodge it, or at least block it, but I was tired, and feeling sluggish, and he was surprisingly quick. I caught it on my chin, spinning me away, and almost dropping me. I grabbed onto a vent to stop myself from falling, my head swimming. I shook it, trying to clear my mind, but he was already closing in on me, arm raised.

There was the mildest of tremors in the ground below as, in my peripheral vision, I saw Tide stamp her foot. A low wave shot out from the point of contact, bowling Junction over as it knocked his feet out from under him. It obviously took something out of her, though; she looked like she’d been punched in the stomach, and immediately doubled over again.

Junction had been right next to me when he’d fallen, so I barely had to move to kick him while he was down. Just before my foot connected, though, another jagged portal opened below him and he fell through, leaving me swinging at empty air. Not even a second later, something heavy slammed into me from behind and sent me sprawling.

I landed on my shoulder, of course. I must have been awful in a past life, to account for all the bad karma I seemed to have accrued. Someone drove a red-hot railroad spike into my arm, and my thoughts were blotted out by pain for a few moments. White consumed my vision, then began to fade into blurry spots, except for in one place- oh, no, that was just Freefall, coming in hot. I was on my back, staring up at the sky, and I don’t think I could’ve any more moved in that moment than I could’ve stopped my heart from beating. That one actually felt like a very real possibility, to be honest.

Junction had used his portals to throw himself at me from his prone position, obviously. I’d be more annoyed (momentum fuckery was my thing) if I had the energy to spare for it. Three heads appeared in my field of vision, all of them identical, and it took me an embarrassingly long moment to realize that it was just one and I was seeing triple.

“H-” a heavy, racking cough cut off the words, and I tasted something metallic in the back of my throat. “...hey, wanna know something funny?” I managed to rasp out.

He frowned down at me. “What?”

“I don’t know enough about you to make a good insult,” I admitted with a weak smile. “I do know one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s an awfully large profile you’re presenting.”

Maybe my karma wasn’t so bad after all, because I got two perfect, beautiful moments of confusion and then realization from him. The shockwave of Freefall’s landing blasted him off his feet, ripping him out of my vision like the hand of god. Prone like I was, the force just slid me slightly along the ground and made the skin of my cheeks wobble in a very uncomfortable way.

One down.

Somehow, slowly and painfully, I dragged myself to my feet. Foresight and Occam were still going at it, and it was obviously going in the former’s favor. The Cabalist had lost one of his blades and was on the defense, his sword’s unnatural sharpness the only thing saving him. Foresight was making some pretty brutal attempts with his knife, but the fact that it couldn’t stand up to Occam’s made him have to pull back if he got it in the way.

Still, he was preventing him from attacking back, and I had no doubt he’d have easily managed to win the fight, if the mysterious boy hadn’t raised a gun in trembling hands and shot him.

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Escape 19-IV

That You've Looked For.

To be honest, I felt a bit silly. I'd made all that fuss about dying on impact, and in the heat of the moment I'd forgotten one very important fact.

Freefall made impacts her bitch.

It felt like landing on a mat from half a foot up, a sensation that was distinctly unnerving considering how far and fast we'd fallen. We had been diving, though, so although it was a soft landing, it was still a soft landing on my face.

I groaned, pushing myself over onto my back with my uninjured arm. Next to me, Freefall had easily tucked into a roll, and popped back onto her feet easily in what I recognised as a boxer's stance. Not a proper, trained one, but the imitation most people assume when they have to throw a punch. The basic idea was right, but her feet were too wide and pointing too far forward, and her torso was way too open. It wasn’t too bad, and her size and strength would probably compensate for a lot of that, but I still made a note to give her some pointers later. I didn’t use any boxing techniques (aside from the basic stuff that was cross-discipline, like a general sense of footwork and how to throw a punch), but I had a pretty good working knowledge of the discipline. Most disciplines, in fact; my dad used to go on and on about how the easiest way to set yourself up for failure is to stick to just one. Pull bits and pieces from everything, that was the way he taught me, and it meant I had at least rudimentary knowledge of pretty much anything someone could reasonably throw at me. Here’s a little tip; if you ever go up against a boxer in a non-boxing fight, make like you’re gonna box too, then kick them in the gonads. Yes, I know, I use that way too much, but it works! Easily the most vulnerable part of the body. Not my fault I take advantage of that.

Freefall jerked her head at me, flicking a hand upwards. Oh, right. Standing. Should get on that.

I levered myself up onto one knee, my arm hanging limply by my side, which made the process somewhat awkward, and stood up from there. We’d landed on some sort of rooftop, retail if I had to guess, with no more than three or four stories. Closer to the docks than I’d thought, too; we were nearly at the point where there started being more empty buildings than occupied ones. Hopefully this one was the latter.

Sprawled on the ground in front of us were four figures; Junction, the boy from before, the forcefield one, and… oh, fun, Occam. All four of them had been laid out by the blast, but none seemed to be unconscious. Typical. And of course, cherry on top, Junction was the first to rise, already on one knee. I took a step over, bringing me closer to Freefall, eyes still on our foes. “Well,” I said under my breath, “that didn’t exactly work.”
She grunted assent, still tense, as the others struggled to their feet. “Can you fight?”

I flicked my head at my dead arm. “Technically, yes. The question you should be asking is, how well can I fight.” She fixed me with a flat glare. “The answer is very very poorly.”

“Not the time.”

“It’s always the time,” I countered. “Keeps my mind off the improbable amount of horrible shit that happens to me.”

“Happens to me too. Don’t see me snarking.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said with a half-smirk, “which one of us has use of both of their arms again?”

“Which one has two whole pinkies?”

“Touche.” Junction was now staring at us murderously, but wasn’t making any move towards us. Unsurprisingly, the boy was taking the longest to recover; the other two were well on their way to standing, but he was still sprawled on the ground, making some mildly pitiful noises. What even was his deal, anyway? Was Edith coercing this kid, or-

Oh. Right.

“Heads up,” I said casually to Freefall, one finger pointing to the sky. We both stepped back, almost in sync, just in time for a figure to condense out of seemingly-thin air, and land where we’d been standing.

Three guesses as to who it was. First two don’t count.

“Okay,” I said out loud before she could do anything but glare. “Let’s just cut the whole cryptic banter off at the pass, shall we? You want the datapad. We’re not going to give you the datapad. Ergo, now we fight. Anything you need to add?”

I think she was actually a bit miffed. She didn’t let it show, though. “You always have to be funny, don’t you?”

I glanced over at Freefall. “Hey, maybe you two should have a chat some time. Seeing as you’ve got so much in common.” She snorted, but continued staring at Edith. “See?” I said, pointing. “Funny!”

“This is pointless and you know it,” she snarled. “Tell us, and you might actually live.”

“Do you ever get tired of this, E? The same little routine, over and over and over?” I clicked my fingers. “Cause I do.”

Nothing happened.

I frowned, clicked them again. Still nothing. A few more times, in rapid suggestion. “Skew,” Freefall said warningly. “What are you-”

I clicked one more time, and Foresight came catapulting over our heads and barreled into Edith.

“Nailed it,” I said smugly as Tide landed behind us.

“You’re insufferable. You know that, right?” Tide said. She sounded winded; tossing the two of them all the way from where we’d been must’ve taken a toll.

“Oh, I know.” Foresight had landed on his feet, of course, and darted back away from Edith's sprawled form just as one of Occam’s blades pierced the ground below where he’d just been. “So nice of you to join us,” I said to him. He ignored me, which, in hindsight, was probably better for everyone.

The four of us stared at the five Cabalists opposite us. Well, I say five, but the boy was just cowering at the back. “What’s his deal?” Tide asked quietly, evidently noticing it too.

“Who knows,” I replied at the same volume. “And if it evens the numbers out, who cares.”

The numbers may have been even, but the odds weren’t. They were all comparatively fresh; we were all either injured, worn out or both. Add to that a lack of straight offensive ability, and…

“Fuck it,” said Tide. “We can take them.”

I glanced at her, at the others, then back at them. I shrugged. “Fuck it.”

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Escape 19-III

Cut Through All This Red Tape.

Ever been in a sandstorm? I haven't, actually; never even left the state, and it's not like there’s an abundance of deserts around the Great Lakes. So obviously I don't actually know what one feels like, but when I imagine a sandstorm in my head, it feels a lot like what Edith hitting us did.

The wind saved both of our asses, I'm pretty sure. Although it bore her up to us in the blink of an eye, it didn't just let her stop there. She was only actually on us for about a second before she was whisked away as fast as she had arrived. Without that, we'd have been torn to shreds.

That wasn't to say we were unscathed. Red hot, fiery streaks of pain slashed across my body; tiny and thin individually, but there were lots of them. One hit just above my cheekbone, and I winced as a tiny spray of blood was blown directly into my eye. The grunt of pain from beside me told me that Freefall had been hit too, though maybe not as badly, with my body blocking a decent amount of hers. If I was being cynical, she might have done it intentionally. I didn't feel like being cynical here, though; that just wasn't Jess.

Then she was gone, and we fell on, now streaming miniature trickles of blood behind us. It didn’t feel life-threatening, but it’s not like it was pleasant either. On the plus side, I reckoned that was close enough that I could scratch ‘dive through a window’ off my bucket list. Laceration’s laceration, right? Maybe I’ll just dive through an open one instead.

I craned my neck around, but Edith had disappeared. Whether it was because she’d been teleported away or because I just couldn’t see her more diffuse form, I wasn’t sure, but the difference was really academic. I leant back over towards Freefall as she steered us back on course (we’d made surprising progress already, the lake & docks growing closer). “This isn’t sustainable!” I yelled in her ear. She growled, and said something that was lost in the rush of wind. I got the gist, though. “Well, it had to be said. We need to take out Junction! He’s the only thing enabling this!”

Instead of replying, Freefall frowned, tilting her head to the side. “What?” I said, curious. “What is it?” She tapped her ear, still listening. “Oh.” Then my eyes widened as I connected some dots I really should have connected sooner. “Oh shit!”

I reached over and snatched the earbud out of Freefall’s ear, ignoring her sound of protest as I stuck it in mine. “They have my comm!” I yelled into it, cutting off Foresight’s voice.

“What?!” Tide interjected. “Are you sure?”

“No, but it’s pretty likely!” I smacked myself in the forehead, earning an unreadable glance from Freefall. “Idiot!”

“You’re really doing well on the self-awareness tonight,” Foresight snarked.
“Someday, I’m going to kill you, you slimy, good-for-nothing piece of shit.” My attempt to sound cold and disturbing was stymied by having to yell to be heard. “I will tear out your fucking liver and I will force-feed it to you until you-”

Freefall snatched the earpiece back out. “Can you switch frequency?” she asked calmly, giving me a glare. She listened for a second, nodded.

I took the time to glance downwards, and nearly gave myself a heart attack. We were rapidly hurtling towards a rooftop below us, and the kind of death that tends to attract comparisons to tomatoes. I let out a noise that could be charitably be described as a shriek, and clutched Freefall’s arm in a death grip, which I think was a perfectly understandable reaction given the circumstances.

Because I was still, uh, screaming, I almost choked on the bile, narrowly avoiding getting it in my lungs. “Why,” I screamed, “does it do that?! WHY?! Gahh!” I coughed a couple of times, spitting out a glob of phlegm that was instantly whisked away. Hopefully, it’d land on Foresight.

“I can hear you,” Freefall was saying. “We need to take out Junction. How far behind are you?” She, of course, didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest by the near-death we’d just avoided.

Something below caught my eye, and I squinted down. Yep. “Incoming!”

Freefall immediately stopped talking and rolled us to the side, spinning out of the way just as Edith shot past us again. No whirling cloud this time; it was a solid comet-shaped projectile that probably would have perforated us if we hadn’t dodged.

I made a grab for the earpiece, but Freefall swatted my hand away. I frowned at her, made a sort of generic gesture, and tried again. Somehow, the meaning must have gotten across, because she let me take it that time. “Foresight,” I said, “can you do your light trick for us again?”

“No,” he snapped, “obviously not.”

“Oh, it’s obvious, is it? Of course. It’s not like you’ve refused to explain how it works, now is it?

“You two,” Tide snapped, “either need to just kill each other or make out, but more importantly you need to do it later.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. “Do you have any way of marking them for us then?”

“...I can light them up,” he said grudgingly. “But not for very long, and they’re moving quickly, teleporting across rooftops.”

“Yeah, do that in like...” I turned to Freefall. “How quickly could we dive?”

“30 seconds.”

“In about 20 seconds then. Freefall?” I grinned. “Go towards the light.”

She grinned right back, and dove.

I hadn’t thought about it until then, but she must have been suppressing part of her power up until then, because the falling we’d been doing had had none of the hallmarks of her usual ones. No glowing corona of light and energy; I think I would have noticed. This one, though?

I don’t think she was suppressing anything.

She began to glow almost immediately, and it spread through her grip to me after a second. As we picked up speed, it increased (less so for me, which would have been worrying if I’d had any brain cells to spare for it), and within moments the full corona had developed, a blinding, shimmering white that encompassed the both of us. It filled my vision completely, and all I could see was a faint outline of our bodies. Didn’t affect my hearing, though; I could still hear my own screaming perfectly well.

I hadn’t thought the plan all the way through: the light was going to pretty handily obscure any sort of signal Foresight could make. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to have the same effect on Freefall as it did me: I felt our course change as she adjusted, aiming us down towards-

And then we hit.

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Escape 19-II

If You Have Half A Brain.

Being teleported was a new experience for me, and not one I'd be eager to repeat. Something grabbed my stomach and squeezed, and I was suddenly very glad I hadn't been able to eat that food, because it would've all come straight back up. My head tipped, any sense of down vanishing, and, just for a second, I saw…

Well.

It was Earth, but… not. But not not, either. It's hard to describe. It was Earth, or it was a green-and-blue planet with weather patterns, but there was something else to it. A depth, one that had nothing to do with physical dimensions. It was just more, and I had the instinctive certainty that if you somehow managed to cram thousands of millions of planets, somehow, into the same physical space, it would look like that. And with that came a degree of perception I hadn't had before, and I could see the points where the overlap wasn't perfect. Like an optical illusion, almost, they weren't quite the same, depending on the angle you were looking from. Around them, flickers of… something. Static, rips and tears and wearing, in something more fundamental than physical space. And no, I don't know how I knew that, either.

Even with the magnitude of what I was seeing, the information I was absorbing, the entire thing took only a fraction of a second. It washed over me like a wave, knocking my brain off-kilter as the other effects did the same to my body. And then we were falling, the lights of the city sparkling below us. It was night: I'd been in there longer than I'd thought. The wind immediately began tearing at my eyes, forcing me to turn my head to the side and preventing me from getting a better look, but I was too distracted to really care. I met Jess’ eyes behind her goggles, and saw they were just as wide and full of shock as mine presumably were. She shook her head slightly, answering the unspoken question. That was not normal, and she had no idea what it was.

The time to speculate about it, though, was later: we were still, you know, falling very rapidly towards the ground. Freefall opened her mouth, yelling something at me, but I couldn't hear it over the rush of the wind in my ears. She noticed my lack of comprehension, growled soundlessly, and pointed off into the distance. It took a second, but I managed to follow the line of her arm, and see that it was pointed at the docks. Right. She was going to try and move us across the city until we got near the base, presumably by-

Another jolt, another sickening squeeze, and we were further up again. No split-second vision that time, which, in a way, was even weirder than if it had happened again. Not being able to face my head downwards, it was hard to tell, but we'd actually been moving laterally, and continued to do so as we fell again. It wasn't the most efficient or dignified method, but if it works, it works. The firm handshake it was giving my intestines was probably going to get pretty old, though.

That is, if we even managed to get that far. Facing up might have made me miss the view below, but it meant that I had a front row seat when a portal opened up above us and Edith fell through it.

Even the wind wasn't loud enough to obscure the stream of profanity that followed. Jess turned her head to glance at me, and apparently caught a glimpse of our new visitor, because she did a full double-take, then somehow managed to effortlessly flip herself to face upwards without letting go of my arm. Physics-defying tricks were supposed to be my thing.

Edith was bearing down on us now, teeth bared in a pained, angry rictus, streamlining herself like a skydiver. She plunged towards us, and as she grew close, she spread a hand out, aiming at me. Then she stared at it, confused, as absolutely nothing happened. It was so beautiful I almost cried. Or maybe that was the wind. Yeah, okay, it was definitely the wind. Still, though.

Apparently even the control her power gave her over the particles of her other form wasn't enough to counteract the fact that wind > salt. She flared her fingers again, and this time I actually saw the stream of crystals rapidly disappearing upwards. I also noticed that when they reformed into flesh, they looked significantly more emaciated. Like, down to the bone. I guess that answered a question I'd never really wanted to know the answer to. She snarled, tucked the arm back in again, and increased the speed of her dive, until she was almost on top of us.
Glancing over at Freefall’s face, I saw that she had a vindictive little smirk plastered all over it. “Don't do something stupid, please!” I yelled at her, and who knows, it might even have made a difference, if she hadn't been completely unable to hear me.

I did throw up this time, just a little. Right before Edith would've hit us, we teleported above her, leaving her flailing at empty space. While I tried in vain to keep the contents of my stomach where they belonged, Freefall did another pivot and kicked Edith square in the back, turning her moment off-balance into a full-blown spin. She tumbled downwards away from us as Freefall spread and slowed us, but quickly recovered, almost directly below us. We began moving sideways again, but she matched it, spinning around to face us. Apart from that, though, she didn't do anything, just staring up at us as we both fell.

I leant in until I was right next to Jess’s ear so she could hear me. “I don't like this,” I yelled.

“Gonna try something for sure,” she yelled back. “Can you do anything?”

“I'm spent, used my last bit trying to break the chains. I could hit her, I guess?”

“Just be ready.” We were getting quite low now, rapidly heading towards the top of a row of apartment buildings.

“There has to be a bett- hrghh.” More bile. “Better way.”

“Let me know.” Her eyes darted around. “Where's she gone?”

“What?” Sure enough, Edith had disappeared, no longer below us. Junction? No, we had to be out of his range now, and moving too fast. So then-

Too late, I saw it. The lights from below seemed off, like they were reflecting or refracting off of something. That, and some of them were growing larger much more quickly-

“Oh,” was all I had time to say before the salt cloud, carried rapidly upwards by the wind, was upon us.

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Escape 19-I

FLINT
 Where We’ll Plan Our Escape.

With a grunt of effort, I managed to push off the wall with one foot. The pain was excruciating, but I'd managed to get some decent leverage, and the swing took me out to almost thirty degrees. At the very peak, I hit the chains nearest to the anchor point with a careful burst of power. The idea was that the motion, transferred directly down away from the anchor point, would jolt it slightly. I wasn't expecting it to come tearing out, but if I repeated the action a bunch, it might be enough to loosen it.

'If’ being the operative word: the chain didn't move in the slightest. I hung there for a second, feeling pretty stupid, before plunging back down and slamming against the wall. Which… hurt. The word seems like it's under-playing a little, but it's essentially accurate. Best I can do is 'hurt a fuckton’.

It had been a few hours since I'd first woken up hanging from the chains. Maybe more, but definitely not less; it was hard to judge time in a white concrete room. I’d spent the first chunk of time just swearing very profusely at the top of my lungs, more to keep myself entertained than anything else. My throat had gotten sore pretty quickly, though, so I’d given up on that and switched to swearing very profusely under my breath. Once that had gotten boring, I’d started describing exactly what I was going to do once I got out, with detailed descriptions. I blame the dizziness from being knocked out, but it took me until I’d gone through all of that to trying to figure out how to get myself out.

Once my head stopped swimming and my vision returned to normal, I jerked myself upright from the slouch I'd fallen into. Another consideration I hadn't taken into account was the pain; I'd have a limited number of repetitions of that little trick before I fainted from the pain, or did permanent damage, or both. I was beginning to suspect the latter had already happened, but that was a problem for later.

The problem for now was that my plan hadn't worked at all. Which shouldn't have happened. I refused to believe that the chains were somehow power-proof: if that even were possible, I wouldn't first be discovering it in my ex’s discount abattoir and torture emporium. Even if they were just very secured in the roof, there still should have been some kind of reaction in the chain. Momentum didn't just go…

“Oh,” I groaned out loud, “I'm an idiot.” I'd done it at the apex, when there wasn't any momentum to redirect. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Worse, I'd endured all that pain for nothing.

Well, it's nice to see you acknowledge it. The words appeared in front of my eyes, written in clear blue light. I hadn't seen it before, not exactly, but the color, and the tone of the message, were enough for me to infer.

“You're fucking kidding me,” I muttered under my breath. Foresight. Of all the people...

Hello to you too, you piece of shit. Surprise, we're here to… ugh. Rescue you. Couldn't tell you why.

“'We’ being…?”

Freefall, me, Tide. Everyone who was there when the latter dragged herself in.

“That's it?!” I hissed. “You do realize that most, if not all, of the Cabal is here?!”

Go eat a swollen dick, Flint. You can't even- the words paused for a moment, then resumed. Flint, this is Shauna. We're trying to figure out some way of getting you out without alerting them. Also, you're a waste of the oxygen you breath, no, that was Sanjay, can you grow up, please? God.

“How far up in the building am I?” I murmured.

Second-to-top floor, so no, Jess can't just smash in and grab you. Besides, Sanjay confirmed that Junction is still there. Running isn't really a good idea if they know about it. Oh, sit tight, you have a visitor.

Sure enough, the door swung open, and in entered… someone. Not one I recognized. A young guy with dark skin and hair, in slacks and a scarf wrapped around his face. The lack of costume made it almost impossible for me to identify him, but if I'd been forced to guess, I'd have said the forcefield one. He was carrying a tray of what probably couldn't be legally referred to as food, and was scrupulously avoiding looking at me in any way.

“Oh, for me?” I snarked as he brought it over towards me. “You shouldn't have.” I jangled the chains. “No, really, you shouldn't have, there's no fucking way I can eat that.”

Without acknowledging me, he placed it down on the ground, safely out of my reach, then turned and scuttled back out the door, sealing it behind him.

I stared down at the gruel, beyond my ability to even touch, let alone eat. I blinked, took a deep breath in and out, then in again, and yelled at the top of my lungs, “GO FUCK YOURSELF, EDITH!”

Surprisingly enough, I didn't get a response. Hadn't been expecting it to, but if she'd come stalking in here and hit me a bunch more, I'd at least have something to work with. She wasn't stable normally, let alone when angry, and there might've been something to exploit there. But that had been a long shot anyway.

What was surprising, though, was that guy. Boy, really, if I was any judge. The way he'd been acting was completely out-of-character for any of the Cabal I'd seen. Timid, almost frightened? Not really desirable qualities. So the question remained, who was he? I wasn't ruling out him being a member; it could just be that he was a lot more confident in-costume than out. Alternatively, he could be a goon. The Cabal had never had non-supers before, but maybe Edith was changing things up. The demeanor still didn't make much sense if that were true, though. She wouldn't recruit someone like that.

My thoughts were interrupted by the return of the light. Okay, we have a plan. Stay calm, stay quiet. We should be able to get you out without them noticing a thing.

“Glad to hear it. What's happening?”

With a very soft pop, Freefall appeared in front of me. I raised an eyebrow at her. “Now how the hell'd you do that?”

She shrugged with a small smirk. “Apartments below are empty. Foresight gave me directions.”

“Hm.” I hadn’t realized she could go smaller scale with her teleports, assuming it had to be a decent height. “Well, I’m not complaining.” I jerked my head at the chains. “Mind getting me out?”

She glanced at the chains. “Not sure,” she said. “Is there a key?”

From my perspective, they were solid bands of metal. “Not as far as I know. I’m not even sure how they got them on.”

Incoming! The words were larger than before, slanted and hurried. I could see an identical projection in front of Freefall’s eyes, and she quickly darted her gaze around the room, noting the complete lack of places to hide.

“Behind the door?” I suggested in a hurried whisper. She frowned, but nodded, and stepped over to behind it just in time. The metal door swung open again, thankfully stopping before hitting her, and the same guy from before entered, carrying a large glass of water. “Oh, Edith, you evil bitch,” I said out loud, to absolutely no response from him. He set it down next to the food, turning to go, and Freefall laid him flat with a punch.

“Nice,” I said appreciatively. She nodded, then crouched down over his unconscious form.

He’s got keys on his belt. The hole for it on the cuffs is hidden in a recessed portion on the back; you might have to stretch to reach it. She dug around in his pockets, and sure enough, a small ring of keys jangled as she pulled them out.

I winced as she unlocked my and I dropped to the ground, my arms suddenly having to adjust to things like ‘not supporting all my weight’, and my legs nearly collapsing out from underneath me. She caught my forearm, steadying me, and I muttered thanks as I righted myself.

“Alright,” I said, rolling my shoulder experimentally. It hurt like a sonavabitch, and I let the arm hang limply at my side. The other one I proffered to Freefall. “Mind getting us out of here?”

“My pleasure,” she said dryly, grasping my forearm. Her face creased slightly in concentration, and I felt the beginnings of a very strange sensation as-

A wordless growl interrupted her concentration, and her eyes snapped open, darting over to the doorway. She quickly refocused, though, and the last thing I saw before my stomach wrenched itself to the side and we disappeared was a whirling cloud of salt bearing down on us.

So much for a clean escape.


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Hive 18-Vignette


Millions Of Voices.

The man known as Ulster stood with his arms folded behind his back, and stared at the future.

To either side of him, metal catwalks stretched off into the distance, then disappearing around square corners. To the left, a dock extended out from the thinner walkway, a large flat metal platform equipped with clamps for some currently-absent piece of machinery. Below, stone, and beyond that, darkness. Despite the cavernous depths below him, and the comparatively flimsy barrier between him and it, he seemed unperturbed.

On the other side of the cavern, about ten meters away and lit by the fluorescent strips built into the rock, were rows and columns of high-tech storage mountings. From those mountings hung capsules. Larger than two people put together (normal people; not ones the size of the man observing them), they were smooth ovoids with only a single transparent panel breaking up the chrome. Beyond their front half, one could vaguely see less aesthetically-pleasing components, including the mechanism that held them to the mountings. They were all exactly identical, save for one thing: the panels. To be more accurate, what was behind them. Through every one of them, energy could be seen. Some buzzed and crackled, some floated languidly, some were perfectly still. Some weres solid colors, vibrant primaries and secondaries, while others were more muddied, a swirl of conflicting colors or mixed together into duller shades. To Ulster’s eyes, it seemed as though, if he squinted, he could almost make out people inside the energy, faces or bodies or limbs. Pareidolia, that was all it was.

The clanging of shoes on the catwalk from behind him distracted him from his line of thought. He didn't turn, but he didn't have to.

The clanging stopped. “I'm sorry to interrupt, sir. Various updates.” He said nothing, merely inclining his head slightly to the side. The woman, standing just behind his left shoulder and wearing a prim business suit underneath a thick labcoat, took that as the sign to continue that it was, and there was the sound of papers being shuffled around. She found what she was looking for, and began to speak. “First, the storage transfer is now at 70 percent-,” she paused, shuffled a few more papers, “-although I suppose you knew that already. Dr. Magnusson has asked me to inform you that his department has run into a snare with regards to some of the Class Sevens. His wording was ambiguous, but it seems that when introduced to the new storage systems, some of them have begun… well, adapting, to the system. None have taken any action or disrupted the systems in any way, but Dr. Magnusson believes that it is not outside the realms of possibility. He also included a very detailed breakdown of the exact changes that are happening, and a very, very detailed theory of why the interaction with the neural systems have only produced this in Class Sevens. I've taken the liberty of having both sent to your desk.”

Eyes still on the capsules, Ulster began walking to his right down the catwalk, footsteps slow and measured. The woman followed behind unabated; she was used to him. “On the topic of security, Gunnar has made a note that the patterns of our resident walking natural disaster have been drawing closer to us in recent weeks. He'd like permission to implement a few of the more experimental repellents.”

“Granted.”

She nodded, and made a short note on her clipboard. “I’ll have the formal request on your desk by the time we get back. Circling back around to the storage transfer, we're beginning to approach the end of our current stock of primaries. It seems like a poor time to be harvesting directly, so I propose we send a collection team to…” she checked her notes, “South Africa. There's been a large wildfire there, and we shouldn't have any trouble being unobtrusive.”

He shook his head. “Tsunami. East Japan.”

She nodded. “Understood. On to less pleasant topics, then:  the Theta sample.”

Ulster stopped, mid-stride, and slowly turned to face her. “You have found it?” he asked, voice low and deliberate.

The woman sniffed and adjusted her glasses, seemingly unconcerned. The slight flickering of her form, though, like an image on an old screen, betrayed her nervousness. “No, sir. It seems in this case, we may have quite literally out-done ourselves.”

The tiniest flicker of comprehension flashed across his face. “The security measures.”

The woman nodded, the flickering ceasing. “Yes. I've been told that some combination of the various experiments has produced the unfortunate side effect, among others, of making it completely undetectable to our current tracking methods.”

“Begin working on an alternate method immediately.”

“Already done. Dr. Magnusson stated, however, that it would not be a quick process. As far as we are aware, UM signatures are the most efficient way, and so this might involve a step sideways, or possibly even backwards.”

“As long as it gets done. What are the projections that it has bonded?”

“High,” she admitted. “Without a neural network to connect to, we should have been able to identify its general location by now.”

Ulster creased his brow, ever so slightly, and began walking again. “The instant it is found, I want a strike team assembled to recover it.”

“Which, sir?”

He considered for a moment. “Four. Treat it as a test for them. I am interested to see if the infusions have made any noticeable difference.”

“If it has bonded, should we keep the subject for easier integration into storage.”

“No,” he said with a wave of a hand, “too much issue with contamination. Set aside one of the current stock for that eventuality: I do not want to reach the time and find our stocks depleted.”

“Then I believe there is only one more thing. Unfortunately, it's the New Chicago situation. We still have not been able to locate the datapad, first of all. I suspect that the Americans had something to do with this; as the situation has become clearer, they've begun stepping up their involvement.”

“Bold. Bold, and out of character.”

“Perhaps not. All reports indicate they are exclusively operating through proxies, hirelings or coerced criminals. One of their Specialists has been coordinating: I have, of course, given instructions that they should be eliminated if any opportunity arises, but I suspect such a thing will not happen. Shame; the things we could glean by getting on a table.”

“Perhaps not as much as you might think. Their methods are inefficient, crude. Wasteful.”

She didn't question how he knew this; it simply wasn't done. “Still, it would be interesting. Strangely, the expected Tower interference has not appeared; either they are biding their time, or are simply unaware of its existence.”

“And the asset?”

At this, she frowned. “On shaky ground. The manipulations are holding, for now, but I am frankly uncomfortable with the tenuous hold we have. Especially considering he is our only real asset operating there currently, and is… less than stable. Also, on a personal level, I have to witness his work, and it is rather disgusting.” She sniffed, adjusting her glasses. “My personal recommendation is that we activate the termination measures and deploy some actual assets. Or at the very least, imitate the Americans, and use reliable proxies.”

“Denied. The entirety of New Chicago is a fallout zone waiting to happen. Disposable tools only.”

“That bad?” she asked, sounding surprised.

Ulster halted, turning to face the opposite wall of the cavern. This one still contained capsules like the others, but it was not full. There was a ring of empty spaces, eight of them, and in the middle, a solitary capsule. It looked rougher than the others, more cobbled together and primitive, but it still had the same transparent port as the others. The energy within was violent, thrashing and twisting and curling.

And utterly, totally black.

“Worse,” he said grimly. 

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Hive 18-X

Move Along.

I wasn't dead. In case that wasn't obvious. Although I felt like I wanted to, my mind heavy and laden with fatigue, I could still think. So unless I had just had some fundamental beliefs proven extremely false, my neurons were still firing. But my vision was still black, and-

I paused, then blinked. It was subtle, but there was a change in the blackness. The barest hint of flashing patterns and fractals. So…

You're not blind, or dead. You've just got your face pressed up against your own arm.

The way I'd fallen when I'd pushed myself off into the sewer had somehow managed to land me in an awkward resting position, forearm over my eyes like I was taking a nap on my desk. The reason I hadn't noticed that immediately was that, despite this body was theoretically undamaged, I felt like I'd been systematically worked over with a baseball bat. Every inch of me ached in a steady pulse, like post-workout pain, but too evenly distributed. Thankfully, I still had both my arms and all my internal organs were on the right side of my skin. But apparently, injuries in my other bodies weren't as consequence-free as I'd thought.

I lifted my head up, a process that was very slowly and only very mildly excruciating. My eyes adjusted, and I saw concrete, and murky water lapping up against it. The other senses followed shortly after, and I gagged as concentrated sewage stank forced its way up my nostrils. Seriously, if my face was any lower, I'd have been drinking it.

The noise I could hear in a sort of fuzzy auditory blur gradually sharpened into actual words. “....dn s hww that could have happened, Khan.” It was Porter, sounding mildly peeved, and very close. Probably just above me on the edge of the lip of the half-pipe. I froze, my neck in an awkward half-raised position that immediately began to ache.

There was the almost-inaudible murmuring of a response over a headset, and Porter hrrm-ed. “Are they both stable?”

More buzz. A pause. “As much as I'd like to, no. You're sure it was- hmm, yeah, that would seem to be in-character.” He sighed. “Fucking Broker.” That must be the man with the white tie. The Broker. That was a suitably sinister name, I supposed. “No, I don't- Fine. Stabilise, but then leave her there. Yes, yes, you're right, I know. But they won't be happy.” Pause. “True enough.”

“What's happening?” called another voice. The blurry woman.

“What's happening,” he replied, his voice becoming slightly more muffled as he presumably turned to face her, “is that your pet sociopath just stabbed one of my team.”

Tense silence reigned for a second. “Did she, now,” she responded slowly.

“Yes,” Porter said, curt. “But seeing as she already lost an arm and then got herself thoroughly beaten by a teenage girl, I'm inclined to let it slide. Only because Schaus is fine. But she is staying there, and none of you are going to get her. As of now, she is officially off this contract. Understood?”

I think it was pretty telling that none of them spoke up. “The girl?” Metalface asked instead.

“Gone, at least when Khan got there. I suspect she might not be in the best condition, though; Schaus was equipped to handle durability of that category.”

“She could tell the Tower,” Combat Gear said, speaking up for the first time.

“Yeah, she could. Probably will. But that will take some time, so our schedule is accelerating before that can happen. Jensen, you're confident in that location?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then I don't believe we have a choice. We're retrieving the datapad now. It’s not the best situation, but if we catch the Outliers by surprise, it should be manageable.”

“Oh shoot,” I whispered instinctively, my eyes widening. I might have said it a little louder than I'd intended, though, because there was a short pause, and then footsteps, quickly growing louder. Good effin’ job, you idiot. If he leant over that ledge he’d see me for sure. I was in shadow, and the lighting was low to begin with, but not enough to hide me entirely.

“Think, think, think! Use your goshdarn brain for, oh, I don't know, the first time today!”

The footsteps grew louder, and I bit my lip, hard, thoughts running at full throttle. Can't move, he'll hear. Can't distract him, don't have anything to do that with. Can't fight, that doesn't work, and I'm about to keel over-

The top of his head appeared over the edge of the pipe, staring down almost directly at me. I froze, holding my breath and trying desperately not to whimper. After a few seconds, he frowned, shook his head, and then disappeared again.

I gave it a couple of moments, ones that felt like an eternity, then allowed myself to slowly release the breath I'd been holding. I didn't dismiss the clone I'd ghosted into the ground below me, though. There was always the possibility he'd come back.

“What was that?” one of his team asked.

“Though I heard something. Nothing there, though. Is everyone ready to move out?” He barely gave it a second before continuing. “Then let's move. You three, you follow, you listen, you do what I tell you. Otherwise, this…” His voice faded away as the sound of multiple sets of footsteps did the same.

I sagged in relief, all the adrenaline and nervous energy flooding out of me in an instant. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was lie my head down right there in a sewer and have the world’s longest nap. But I couldn't do that, I needed to get up and… and…

An indeterminate amount of time later, a hand fell on my shoulder, bringing me out of my fugue. “Hey. Hey! Are you dead, or-”

I raised my head with a groan. “I'm not dead,” I said groggily. “I wish I was, but I'm not.” Slowly, with great effort, I pushed myself over so I was on my back. It hurt, but everything did. Standing above me was Kai, looking relieved and trying not to show it.

I glanced down, and realized I was still invisible. I dismissed the clone, popping back into visibility, and she jumped backward. “Sorry,” I said weakly. “How did you find me?”

“You were making a distortion in the water,” she pointed out. “I'm surprised he didn't notice it.”

“It was probably hard to see in the shadow,” I mumbled, dropping my head back with a splash and staring up at the ceiling.

“Are you… okay?” she asked me.

“Honestly? No, not really. I'd probably be dead if you hadn't jumped in earlier, though, so… thanks, I guess.”

“Don't worry about it,” she said, her voice a little strained. “So, what the h*ll just happened?”

“Frankly, I'm not too sure myself.” Every part of me wanted to wither and die, but I began pushing myself up to a sitting position. “But some people I know are going to get badly hurt if-” something in my gut twinged, and I winced, falling backwards.

Almost instantly, Kai caught me. Using both hands and a decent amount of effort, she pulled me into an upright position. “Don't kill yourself, geez. Can you even walk?”

“No, probably not,” I admitted. “But I need to get to the docks, and warn those people before they,” I gestured in the direction Porter had left, “can get to them.” I looked up at her. “You've already gone above and beyond, and I have no right to ask this, but… help me? Please?”

Even with the glasses, I felt our gazes lock. Her face was blank, and she said nothing, for long enough that I was beginning to think she'd say no. Then, her composure broke, and she sighed. “You,” she said as she crouched down next to me and slipped an arm underneath mine to lift me up onto my feet, “are very lucky you're cute.”

While I blushed and stammered, she hoisted me to my feet with a grunt of effort. I almost immediately staggered against her, and would have fallen again if not for her supporting me. “Come on. I can guess which route they're taking, and I know one that should get you- us, there before them.” We began walking, me using her as a makeshift crutch and trying very hard to minimise the amount I touched her, and her doing her best not to groan.

“So very, very lucky.”

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Hive 18-IX

More Powerful Than You Could Possibly Imagine.

Nietzsche said a lot of things, not all of them gems. But if there was ever a moment I'd identified with gazing long into the abyss, it was looking into Green Cloak’s eyes.

Her breathing was unsteady, panting, ragged; teetering on the edge of desperate, but not quite there. Her nose, long, flared like a horse about to charge with each breath. Her lips, thin and pale, were drawn back, exposing teeth that would have been remarkable if they weren't covered in blood. She must have bit her tongue. It wasn't like she'd been dark-skinned before, but now she was pale like curdled milk, lacking the slight olive edge she'd had before. Her eyes, though…

Hate. Hate and rage, and a cold, hard emptiness. It was one of the most terrifying things I'd ever seen.

I shivered involuntarily, stepping back. Blood dripped from her… remaining hand, her left, and the blades I'd noticed there earlier. I didn't feel particularly happy about being right when I’d guessed how she used them. Schaus was face down, head out of the water (thankfully? I wasn't sure. He was trying to… kill me, but he'd been, nice, I guess), blood diluting the sewage from a dark, wet spot on his side. I couldn't see the details, but there was a lot of blood, almost up to the end of Green Cloak’s fingers. Were there vital organs on the left side below the ribcage? Something from the digestive system for sure, but my grasp on biology is… sparse. Mostly esoteric facts from articles on the internet. So I knew that there was a nerve that went all the way up from the heart to the neck then loops around and goes almost all the way back down, but not which organs were where.

“In fairness, it's not ever been relevant before.”

Green Cloak took another step towards me, jerkily. Like a puppet with some broken strings. I went to move, but… I didn't know what to do.

Get her, you idiot. She's effing out of it, knock her out and take her to the Tower.

“Are you kidding me?! Run! Look at her? I don't even think knocking her out would stop her right now! She. Wants. To. Kill. Us. So RUN.”

She's wanted to kill us from the beginning! And hey, it wasn't completely one-sided.

“You're disgusting. And we chopped off her arm! We've effed this up enough already. Cut our losses, get back there and make sure Kai’s okay, then go and warn the Outliers.”

Kai can take care of herself.

“Do you even REMEMBER HOW WE BLOODY MET HER? NO, SHE CAN'T!”

You're just-

Green Cloak didn't seem to have much regard for my internal conflict. There was that same devastatingly loud noise as before, knocking me out of my thoughts and back against the wall. A slow numbness washed over my… right arm.

Oh goddammit.

In what she'd probably thought was oh so clever, my right arm had been blown clean off just below the elbow. The hand and a little above it flopped to the ground, but a decent chunk of it had been obliterated and splattered against the wall by the sheer strength of those bullets.

Green Cloak laughed, but it wasn't the light, clear sound I'd heard back at school, what felt like years ago. No, now it was low, rough and guttural. Raspy. “Now we’re even,” she snarled.

I stood up and punched her in the face. Not heavy, though in the state I was in I'd being lying if I said I didn't consider it. I didn't really know how to throw a punch, and I'm not left-handed, but it didn't really matter. She staggered backwards, hand flying to her face and other arm jerking up like it wanted to too, dropping the gun in the process we. “Not exactly,” I said, with a certain grim satisfaction.

Okay, see, this I can get behind. Some guilt-free whaling.

“...yeah, she deserves it.”

She turned her head to the side and spat, a thick, bloody globule. “Why,” she rasped, “are you even here?” I don't think she was echoing Schaus intentionally. “Why do you keep following me around-” she vanished, and I didn't manage to turn in time to avoid her kicking me in the back of the knee, “-and f***ing everything up!”

The kick was painful, but not debilitating, and I snarled right back at her and swung around to hit her again. I got nothing but empty air, though; partially because she teleported away and partially because I'd swung my right arm, and couldn't have hit her with it even if she hadn't. It sent a spray of blood flying in a low arc, and I realized for the first time that it was actually bleeding quite heavily. I didn't feel any different, but that could have just been adrenaline.

She was a few feet away now, leaning against the wall, her hand clutching her gut and panting. “You think… you're so high and mighty.” I reached her and swung again, with the correct arm this time, and she didn't teleport, but she did just sort of slide down the wall out of the way. “Putting all this energy into running me down, and just ignoring everything else going on. Good work, kid, you're a real hero.”

Seeing as she was down already, I kicked her. She grunted, rolling to one side and curling around her core to protect it. So I kicked her again, and then again, and then one more time for good measure, and I probably would have kept going if she hadn't pulled Schaus's gun out from where she’d curled around it and shot me with it.

I took a step back, looking down at the brand-new hole in my midsection. It had the same sort of blank numbness as the arm, but I could see a little bit of something purple and fleshy hanging out.

“Hah!” she crowed, pushing herself to her feet, wobbling slightly on the way up. “Don't mess with me, f***er, or I'll f*** you up.” Evidently not satisfied with ventilating my stomach, she raised the gun at my head and pulled the trigger again.

It clicked. She looked at it in confusion, and so I hit her again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And then I fell over on top of her body, unable to keep myself upright. After an indeterminate amount of time spent bleeding out, some boots appeared in my vision. Their wearer bent down, revealing her to be Nimbus. She said something, but I couldn't hear it. It didn't seem terribly important.

She sighed, then punched me in the head with one of her glowing fists, and everything went black.

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