Prepared 20-V

HANNAH
As Far As Brains Go.

The cold hit me like a slap in the face, and I had to stop myself from yelping. Surprisingly, all those fires produced a lot of warmth. My eyes snapped open, and I jolted forward, and, because I'd been sitting against a wall with my knees up, immediately hit them with my chest. People always told me I had bony knees, but I’d never really appreciated what they meant until then. I groaned softly as I rocked back, glad that no-one was around, and that I was invisible. Just one or the other probably would have been sufficient, but I felt better having double the certainty.

Slowly, I stood, feeling mild pins and needles running through my legs. They were also quite cold, and it occurred to me that leaving my real, physical body out in the cold probably hadn’t been the smartest idea. It was lucky I’d come back to it so quickly; that would have been an ignoble way to go. Would I die, though? If my brain was in another body.

“How about we pretend the answer is yes, absolutely, and never ever try and test it?”

...good point.

I almost missed them at first in the gloom. They’d gotten surprisingly far, already a good dozen yards down the road. I hadn’t even thought about it, but it was lucky they’d come out this way. If they’d gone in the opposite direction, I’d have had no way of knowing. Maybe don’t mention that part to… anyone.

I went to run after them, but after a few seconds, realised there was no point if I didn’t report back. I quickly found a position that would keep me vaguely upright, and switched back.

“They’re moving north,” I said, snapping my head up to look at them, and immediately regretting it. Going from mostly upright to sideways and off the ground did a number on my head, so I quickly switched back before it got worse, got back on my feet and resumed following.

They were moving quickly, for obvious reasons, but they had a hostage, and I have long legs, so I quickly caught up with them. I gave them some space, though, trying to get a good balance between still being able to react quickly if they did anything, and not being, you know, near them. I may have leaned more towards the latter than the former.

Ricochet didn’t have a knife to her throat anymore, but her hands had been cuffed behind her back, and she was walking in the centre of the group with a gun pointed at her. She was completely stripped of weaponry now; it seemed to have been distributed evenly amongst the mercenaries, all of whom were scanning their surroundings in a calm manner. The Prowlers were technically doing the same thing, but with them it looked more twitchy and panicked. None of them spoke, but apparently Ricochet had decided to make up for it by herself.

“Yer goin’ the wro-ong way,” she said loudly, in a mock sing-song voice. “Every last one of ya is an walking, talking slap in th’ face of evolutionary theory whose parents din’ have the good sense to smother them in the crib. Ya wouldn’t know a good idea if it f***ed ya in the ass, and you’re gooooooing the wrooooooong waaaaaay.”

“Be quiet,” Porter said, with the air of someone repeating themselves.

“Haha, f***in’ noooooope. Your mother,” she said, turning her head to look at Khan, “was a whore, your father was a whore, an’ the only reason that’s not in present tense is cause they were both so stupid they got distracted and forgot how to breathe. You,” at Blur, “are a sack of feces that somehow gained sentience. And you,” at Jensen, who was leading the way, “are obviously a decendant of Christopher Columbus.”

He ignored her.

“Because you’re going the wronggggggggggggggg f***in’ way!”

“If you don’t shut up I will shoot you,” Porter snapped at her.

She snorted loudly. “Ya would’ve done it already. But yoooooooouuu can’t risk it!”

“Are you drunk?” asked the other female merc, the one whose name I’d not heard. “Serious question.”

“Cole.” Oh, well, there you go. “Don’t”

“A lil’, yeah,” Ricochet replied casually. “In my defense, very sh*tty awful day.”

“You were not,” Porter said flatly. “It is impossible you did anything you just did while tipsy.”

“Ya lack imagination, my man.”

“Now who’s engaging her?” Cole asked.

Ricochet snickered. “I like her,” she said to no-one in particular.

“Jeez. And we thought the others were crazy.”

Why haven’t they just killed her, though? The group turned to the left down a side street, and I quickly did the switch, told the Outliers, and came back again before following them around it. If they don’t need her to find it…

“Maybe they don’t know her power? It didn’t look like she was using it before.”

Seems like a lot of risk, then. And annoyance.

“Well, she’s still leverage.”

The stream of… erm, colorful insults, mixed with constant reminders of their apparent directional ineptitude, continued almost unabated as we passed through streets and alleyways, moving towards the waterfront. I couldn’t tell if she was saying it because they were going the right way, or if they weren’t; either seemed equally likely. They seemed very confident in it, but she wasn’t acting particularly worried. Then again, crazy.

I kept the Outliers updated regularly, but switching back and forth so much was actually starting to make my head hurt, so it was something of a relief when they finally stopped moving, in front of one of the piers on the docks.

“This is as close as I can get us,” Jensen said, still staring at a device on his wrist. “Within fifty meters, for sure.”

That included three piers, and at least one building on the other side of the road. “Care to enlighten us as to where to look?” Porter asked Ricochet dryly.

“Oh, sure,” she replied cheerily. “Ya might need to move yer head out of the way first.”

“My… head?”

“Yep! See, with it so far up yer own ass, you won’t be able to get right in there and find all the f***s I don’t give.”

I missed the next bit, because I was telling the others, but when I returned, a little dizzy, Ricochet was laughing her head off. “Worth it,” she wheezed.

“Everyone spread out!” Porter ordered. “Check everywhere. And you three,” addressing the Prowlers, “if you start getting any ideas, remember that our mutual friend is paying close attention.”

As the others moved away, he returned his attention to Ricochet, and something seemed different about it now. More focused, and he pointed his gun at Ricochet with more intensity, more… intent.

“Ohhh, I know what this bit is,” she said, not even slightly discomfited. “You… nah, nah, not torture, none of your team would give two shits if ya jus’ did it. Mercy, that’s it! You try and cut me a deal now, with everyone away not to undermine ya.” She grinned. “Am I right, or am I right?”

“You’re not,” he said, and shot her.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support... shit, I don't have a joke for this. Vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Prepared 20-IV

FLINT
The Murkiest Scam.

As soon as the mercenaries were out of sight, Void snapped her head up and began pointing and gesturing silently. It was a rough and crude system, but it got the idea across. Point at Freefall and herself, then in the direction the mercenaries had left, Freefall and I will follow them. Wide spread to cover all of us, same direction again, then indicating space between her hands, everyone else, following further back. Eyes, then a shake of the head, don't be seen.

What? Did you think we were actually just going to let them go? You mustn't have been paying attention very well, then.

“Wait-” Wisp started to say, confused, but I whacked her in the arm with the back of a hand and shushed her. She snapped her mouth closed, looking embarrassed, then gestured vaguely around. What’s going on?

I held up one finger. Wait. Void had stopped gesturing, one hand held up in a stop sign and her head cocked to the side. She must have heard something, because she nodded, and gestured for everyone to come to her. We did so, Vortex picking up and carrying Ribbon’s limp form, until we were all arranged in a small huddle. It really helped highlight the height differences in our group, too: Tide had stood next to Vortex (because of Ribbon), and there was an almost comical size discrepancy between the two of them.

“Alright,” Void said in a low voice, “they shouldn’t be able to hear us now.

“What is going on?” Wisp demanded. “Just a second ago, you were all-”

“We were faking it so that we could get out of that situation and set ourselves up for a better one.”

“Wait,” Stonewall said, “we were faking it?”

“Yes, Adib,” Vortex said with long-suffering patience.

“Oh! So we’re not actually-”

“No, Adib.”

“Good,” he said, satisfied. “If we had to leave Lisette I’d feel bad, even though she isn’t very nice.”

Despite the situation, that got a chuckle out of everyone. Well, all of the Outliers. Wisp and whatshername just seemed confused, probably because they had no way of matching names to the people. “What’s the plan, then?” Wisp asked instead. “Can you get to this… datapad before they do?”

“Well, it’s harder to move with a hostage, trust me. Especially one as… uh, as Ricochet as she is,” I said. “But we’re not very mobile ourselves, right now.”

“Of course you know about moving with hostages,” Flatline said dryly.

“Besides,” Void said before I could reply, “whether through coincidence or intention, they’ve managed to screw us over even more. As a safety measure, Ricochet was the only one who knew where the datapad actually was. So we don’t actually have any way of finding it except following them. Which we need to do stealthily, from a distance.” Her gaze moved over to me. “Flint. You’re staying behind.” For some reason, Wisp’s head snapped to me at that.

“No, I’m not,” I replied immediately, “and do you really want to waste the time arguing about it?”

She continued, conceding the point. “You two,” Kai and Wisp, “powers. Five seconds or less.”

“...mirror shields,” Kai said reluctantly.

“It’s complicated,” Wisp said almost at the same time. “A lot of stuff, really. I think I can follow them without them seeing, though?”

“Will we be able to follow you?”

“Ah- not exactly. But, I think I can tell you when they get there? If you’re willing to carry my body around while I do.”

“I can do that!” Stonewall said.

“I… don’t doubt it.”

“Do that, then. But give us general directions to move in as well.”

Wisp nodded, then closed her eyes and collapsed like a marionette. She fell against Kai, who only barely managed to keep her upright. “A... little… help?” she groaned, straining under the weight. True to his word, Stonewall hurried over to her and delicately picked Wisp’s body up, holding it easily. Apparently, being carried was the theme of the day.

“Same ideas as before apply,” Void continued. “Shock and awe, hit them hard and fast. Freefall initiates-”

Wisp snapped her head up. “They’re moving north,” she said rapidly, then immediately collapsed again.

“Well, that’s freaky,” I muttered, and Kai nodded her assent next to me.

“North, then. We’ll give it another minute to be safe, then we’re off. Freefall, stay high. If you can, hit them once they’ve found the datapad. If they’re indoors, I want you to wait outside and we’ll try and draw them out. If they’re indoors, Tide, you’re the opener, so be ready. Mirror shields, I want you on the guy with the metal mask. Your power should nullify his.” Kai didn’t even have time to protest before she plowed ahead. “Vortex, Stonewall, work on containing glowy arms. She and I stalemate, and that’s pointless. I’ll go after the leader. The rest of you focus on the others. Don’t let them get another dome up, however they do it, and don’t let them get away with the datapad. Flint, if he tries to hurt Ricochet before I can get him off her, you stop him.”

“They’ve turned left,” Wisp said, “heading towards the shore.” She didn’t bother sitting up this time.

“Okay, that’s long enough. Let’s move, people. If you’re injured, do your best to keep up. Tide, I’m sorry, but Ribbon’s gonna have to be okay here. She’s too out of it.” She frowned, kneeling by her girlfriend with one hand placed protectively on her back, but nodded reluctantly.

“Shouldn’t we stick our hands in the middle and do a cheer before we go?” Flatline asked with a smirk.

“Sure, but ‘3, 2, 1, these fuckers came into our home and tried fucking with our friend so let’s show them exactly why that was a mistake’ is a bit wordy.”

“I like ‘3, 2, 1, fuck ‘em!’” I offered.

Freefall broke the huddle and began striding towards the exit without a word. “Spoilsport,” I called after her.

The rest of us followed her example, though. As we did, we started inspecting various pieces of gear and weapons. I would’ve liked to have had a gun, considering my state, but Lis and I were the only ones who really carried, and she was… so I couldn’t borrow one off of someone.

Kai fell in beside me, for lack of better options. “She’s, uh, something, huh?” she said quietly, looking at Void up ahead.

I was too tired to make a joke out of it. “Yeah,” I replied. “Yeah, she is. This whole thing wouldn’t work at all if she wasn’t.”

We passed through the dome, and were suddenly awash with light. Relatively speaking, that is. I hadn’t noticed while in there, but the lack of ambient light had really been creating some dissonance in my head. It was nice to have it back.

Up ahead, Wisp said something again, and Void quickened her pace, pulling even further ahead. I sighed, and picked up my pace in turn, body aching in protest.

As we moved out, for some reason, I felt the need to look over my shoulder. There was nothing there, though; just the dome, and above and around it the lights of the city, and the Tower, stretching up into the sky. I squinted at it. Was it… brighter than normal?

No, no. I was just imagining it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support the fake-out and strange premonitions,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Prepared 20-III

HANNAH
To Die For.

“Oh hey, it’s that person who bumped into us at the market earlier!”

Everything going on, and that’s what you twig on to?

It was, though, same head-to-toe black fatigues. Significantly less weapons, I noticed. Considering the charring in various places on the ground around her, and the explosion from before, it wasn’t hard to figure out why that was.

“Sure thing!” Void called out, in response to him. She and glowy-arms were still circling each other, not throwing any punches, but not taking their eyes off one another either. “Here’s a proposal: you put down Ricochet there, and in return, she promises not to kill you and your entire family.”

“I ****in’ do not!” Ricochet yelled. “Void, stop deprivin’ me of my rightful ****in’ revenge!” Her accent was an incomprehensible mess, like she was picking sounds at random.

“Ignore her,” Void replied smoothly. “She’s kind of dumb.”

A little bemused, I leant over towards where Skew slouched nearby, watching the scene intently. “You guys are being… kind of blithe about this?”

“Ricochet can handle herself,” she said absently, doing a poor job of hiding the concern in her voice. “I’m more concerned that they’re using this as an opportunity to recoup and hit us from somewhere else.”

“Really?” Kai asked, somewhat nervously. “You’re more worried about that than the possibility of your friend dying? You’re kind of a shitty person, bro?” Bro?

“She’ll be fine,” she snapped. “Now shut up and keep an eye out. Wisp, I can’t fight, so I’ll need you to.”

“Oh, I- uh, I’m not-”

She sighed irritatedly. “You’re super strong and tough. Just swing a fist at them.”

“And kill them?!” I demanded.

“They’d do the same, grow up-” she cut herself off with a hiss. Porter had just drawn the knife across Ricochet’s throat, leaving a thin red line.

“Enough,” he said, sounding exasperated. “God, you really are a bunch of kids, aren’t you?” With a start, I realised he hadn’t actually moved his knife-hand at all: it had grown, cutting across, then returned to its original shape. So he could make his flesh into either knives, or just inanimate materials in general. I was leaning towards the latter, based on the shape-changing.

“Well, if you want to take that approach,” Skew yelled from beside us, “then you’re the one attacking kids. So don’t try and place yourself on some moral high-ground.”

Surprisingly enough, he chuckled at that. “Trust me, moral high ground isn’t relevant here. Tactical is. I could kill her right now-”

“You could try,” Ricochet snarled.

“-but I’m not, as a sign of good faith,” he continued unabated. “So, again, let’s negotiate.”

Skew opened her mouth, but Void held up a hand, and she closed it again, looking pissed. “Fine,” the apparent leader of the Outliers said. “What do you want?”

He gave a low, humorless laugh. “I don’t really think I need to say it.”

“Well, humor us.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up slightly, but his eyes didn’t change. “The datapad.”

“The datapad again, huh? Must be something pretty flash, for all this.”

Thank you for that scintillating insight.

“And now we’ve avoided a possible misunderstanding, go us. Why?”

“We’re mercenaries. We’ve been hired to.”

“And them?” She gestured at Metalface.

He shrugged. “We were hired to work with them, so we are. Don’t get me wrong, neither party is particularly happy about it, but in our line of work, sometimes you just have to knuckle down and deal with it.”

“And why does your employer want it so badly that they’re willing to hire you to assault a bunch of kids, then?” I frowned, curious. She sure was asking a lot of questions… it was almost like she was trying to keep him talking while they set up an ambush, but everyone was present, and if there was an outside factor involved I doubted Skew would look so nervous.

Apparently, Porter had cottoned on to it too. “Don’t have the slightest clue. But we’re getting off track. Here’s what I’m offering. You give us the datapad, which presumably isn’t in this building considering how there’s not really anywhere left it could be, and in return, we let this young woman, but also all of you, live.”

“Lie,” Skew muttered under her breath.

“How generous of you,” Void replied. “Very magnanimous. A lot of sacrifice on your side.”

“The fact that I’m making it at all is the sacrifice.”

She laughed, surprising me. “Come on, you can do better than that.” The genuine good cheer in her voice was tempered with a ragged edge, but it being there at all was still unnerving. I think these people are all messed up.

Kai leant over to me. “I think these people are all messed up,” she said quietly, and I had to withhold a snort.

“You’re making a dangerous assumption, though,” Void continued. “That this situation is going to keep going in your favor.” Her hand twitched, and a low breeze began to blow.

He laughed. “Well, yes. Primarily because it is going to continue to do so. I have to apologize for deceiving you a little bit, though.” Everyone tensed.

“And why is that?” Void asked slowly.

“Well, for one, we don’t actually need you to give us the datapad. We already have it.”

There was a beat of silence. Then, ringing out clearly in the emptiness, Skew’s voice: “BULL. SH*T.”

Void tilted her head. “I’m inclined to agree. Why would you bother going through all this if you could just find it on your own.”

“I guess that’ll be a riddle for the ages,” Porter said calmly. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be going.” He began walking forwards, grip on Ricochet iron-tight and steady despite her struggles. “Sorry, but you’ll be coming with us for at least a little while. Insurance, you know.”

The other Prowlers and mercenaries began to move away, and towards the exit. And… no-one did anything. Even Ricochet was silent. “What’s going on?” I hissed at Skew. “Why aren’t you doing anything?”

She turned to look at me, and I reeled at the pure rage in her eyes. “What, exactly, do you think we can do?”

I stared down at them as they walked towards the exit. “I don’t know,” I admitted.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support giving up,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Prepared 20-II

FLINT
Your Powers Of Retention.

Void had pulled herself out of the rubble by the time we reached her, tossing a chunk of brick the size of her head to one side like it was made of foam. Whatever had hit her had taken a gash out of her mask, stretching from just above her left temple down to the corner of her mouth, and through it I could see one eye, a surprising amount of blood, and, most worryingly, distinctive lack of any form of smile. “Hey guys,” she said tiredly as we arrived. “Glad to see you’re okay, Skew. For a given value of okay.”

“Alive is enough of a value for me,” I replied. “And right back at you.”

She winced, and cracked her head to one side with a noise I’m pretty sure necks aren’t supposed to make. “Eh, not so much.”

“Um.” I glanced over to see Wisp staring at her with something like awe. “Not to be rude, but… how are you still alive?”

Void glanced at me, and I nodded slightly. “Well,” she said, thumping a fist lightly against her chest, “I’m very tough.”

“Oh, no, I meant, like, specifically. Which one hit you, the glowy-arms? No, wait, she just destroys stuff. But then which…” she trailed off, absentmindedly wringing her hands in thought.

Void gave her a look, then switched it to me. “You always manage to meet such interesting people.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” Kai interjected, “I just met her, we are not affi-”

Another explosion ripped through the building, sending a plume of fire up into the air. For a beat, we all shared a silent glance, then, as one, we began running towards the building. Despite her having just been thrown through multiple walls, Void pulled ahead easily, her long cape fluttering behind her. She stretched out both hands as she did, pointing them at the fires nearest to the entrance. The flames immediately began to ebb, growing smaller and thinner, while a rush of wind hit us from behind, causing Wisp to make a surprised eep, and Void’s cape to lose some of its flutter.

Most of the office section at the front of the warehouse had been obliterated, reduced to a scattered pile of rubble in between two walls and a sagging roof. The wall between that section and the main warehouse, though, was surprisingly intact; the doorway was significantly larger than it used to be, and a lot less uniform, but aside from that it was mostly intact. All we could see through it was a thick haze of smoke, and the occasional flashing of lights. Void stopped just before it, and the rest of us pulled up behind her. “Skew,” she said to me, “can you walk?”

“Probably,” I replied hesitantly, “but not much else.”

“Well, we need Freefall, so suck it up.” The words lacked the usual smile to take the edge off, and they actually stung a little, but I nodded, and Freefall righted me and set me down. Clinging to her arm, I tentatively put some weight on my legs, and when they didn’t immediately collapse, I risked it and put the rest on them. When Freefall let go, I almost fell, but found my equilibrium and settled into it. Void nodded. “Try not to overexert yourself. If you have any power left, try and use it judiciously. Freefall, wait in the wings. If they group up, hit them, but until then it’ll be too risky.” She turned to Kai and Wisp. “You two, I don’t know or trust. Skew’s vouched for you, though. Try and stay out of the way, help where you can. I’m assuming you’ll be able to tell the difference between us and them?”

“Yes ma’am,” the two of them said simultaneously, then blanched as they released they’d done it.

“Everyone else, I’m going to clear out the smoke. Either the short woman or the tall man is making the dome, so target those two. Don’t engage the woman with the glowy arms, and be careful with the leader. Understood?” There were nods all around. “Good. These fuckers came onto our turf. Let’s show them why that was a mistake.” She turned back to the door. “Tide, give us an entrance.”

The swirling smoke, moving vaguely outwards from the center of the room, slowed, stopped entirely, then began to move backwards. It quickly gained speed, until there was a veritable torrent of it all pouring into a single spot. It receded in a solid mass, washing backwards over the contents of the room and revealing them, until the last of it reached the centerpoint and vanished completely. Following dead on its heels as it did was a waist-high wave of concrete, and behind that, the seven of us, diving straight into the madness.

At the far end of the room, Flatline and Combat Gear were fighting, a bizarre game of keep-away, where the first to touch the other would be the winner by way of unconsciousness or horrific disintegration. Ribbon was backed into a corner, defending an unconscious Stonewall from the bombs being thrown at them by the short female mercenary Void had mentioned. Towards the center and off to one side, Vortex shielded himself with one hand from Metalface’s face-laser while the other desperately darted around, creating shields to block line-of-sight with Blur. I couldn’t see a tall merc anywhere, so he’d probably be maintaining the dome somewhere out-of-sight. In the dead center, Ricochet fought in brutal hand-to-hand with a bulky mercenary with sandy blonde hair. To one side of them was a charred crater, presumably the source of the explosion before, and to the other was her rifle, chopped messily in half.

Standing directly in front of us was the last merc, the woman with the glowing arms (they were actually quite pretty). She hadn’t been affected by the wave; judging by the way it split behind her, she’d chopped it in half with her power. Surprise flitted across her face for a moment on seeing us, but it quickly reset to a cold, hard mask.

“Go!” Void yelled, stepping forward. The woman swung at her, and she matched the blow with one of her own, the space around it shimmering slightly. When the two connected, there was an explosion of force that knocked them both back.

The group split, heading in different directions. Wisp, Kai and I moved aimlessly to one side, not sure of exactly what to do. I couldn’t really do anything, and I doubted either of them had ever seen a proper fight before.

It ended up being a moot point, though, because barely a second later, a furious scream ripped out through the room, stopping everyone in their tracks. Everyone’s heads turned to the center of the room, where the sound had originated, and my heart sunk.

“Motherfucker!” Ricochet screamed at the mercenary holding a knife to her throat- no, wait, he wasn’t holding the knife, his hand had become a knife. “I’ll tear out yer goddamn spleen and beat ya to death with it!”

The mercenary’s face was perfectly calm, and his voice, when he spoke, managed to easily drown out Ricochet’s stream of obscenities.

“Let’s negotiate.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support not making the author write a fight scene with 19 characters in it,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Prepared 20-I

HANNAH
Stick With Me.

The building was on fire, and it wasn't hard to figure out whose fault it was.

I’d expected the inside of the dome to be pitch-black, but it was surprisingly well-lit, the streetlights still giving off flickering white light. It would have been darker without the ambient light from the rest of the city, but the fire more than made up for that. It roared and crackled, a giant blaze that had consumed the entire front facade of the Outliers’ warehouse and had begun to spill out onto the street. Which was strange, because neither of those things were in any way flammable, and yet they burned anyway.

Did we see all the mercenaries’ powers? Is that one of them?

“Well, there was super-speed, glowy fists, and… knife-producing? Maybe? So between this and the dome, that probably covers all their powers.”

Hmm. Then again, one of them did have some kind of tech stuff, didn’t he? One or both could be that, too.

“Does it really matter?”

Well-

“That was rhetorical. It doesn’t.”

I turned, to see the others enter the dome behind me. The inky blackness of the shield seemed to cling to all of them as they passed through, stretching out slightly before snapping back, which actually looked pretty gross. Foresight came first, his hands raised warily, then Tide, who was still looking at me with mistrust. Then Freefall, carrying Skew, and finally Kai, a few feet away from the others and watching them with blatant mistrust. I guess I couldn’t really blame her; I still wasn’t sure if I trusted them 100% myself.

All their heads immediately snapped to the burning building as soon as they were through. Kai looked surprised, and a little concerned, but the Outliers were…

Oh geez.

They were pissed.

“Makes sense. That’s their base, right? Gotta sting.”

“We should’ve killed them in that bloody lab,” Tide growled.

“Lab?” I asked, without thinking.

“Long story,” Skew said, waving a hand, but not looking away from the building. “Not relevant. What is relevant is rectifying that mistake as soon as possible. Wisp, you said they were with mercenaries?” She managed to still be surprisingly serious while being carried in someone’s arms.

I nodded. “Five of them. Uhh, the leader seemed sharp? I guess they all did. They had one speedster, but he, uh, got stabbed? So I don’t think he’s here. Then the big lady has some kind of destructo-fists? Like a glowing energy thing around her hands, seemed to destroy matter. The others, I don’t know. With the- Prowlers,” that was actually a pretty good name for them, “you don’t have to worry about the teleporter. She’s…” I winced, but couldn’t resist, “‘armless.” They stared at me blankly. “She’s missing an arm.” Thinking about it made the nausea swell up again, but now that I was removed from the situation and in a better headspace, I could just push it back down again.

“Really?” Skew asked. “How’d that happen?”

I frowned. “Not relevant? Anyway, I don’t know if you know, but there’s four of them, not three.”

“The blurry one? Yeah, we know.”

“Just so we’re clear,” Kai said loudly, “I have no fu- effin’ clue what any of you are talking about.”

“It’s a good thing nobody cares about you, then, tagalong,” said Foresight dismissively.

Kai stared at him, and opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the other three Outliers chorused “shut up, Foresight” in unison. He glared at them, but did indeed shut up. When we’d last interacted, he’d complained about how the others treated him, and I was starting to get an idea of why that was.

“Wisp,” Kai muttered to me as she sidled up to beside me, “who are these people, and why are they crazy?”

“They’re vigilantes,” I answered back at the same volume, “and… they’re vigilantes. I think you have to be a little crazy, to do that in a city like this.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you one?”

“I- no!” I protested. “This is temporary! I’m just- I’m not-”

“Uh-huh,” she said, sounding utterly unconvinced. “You can stop any time you want.”

“Yes, that, but, like, not sarcastically.” I don’t think I did a very good job of convincing her.

“...and I can’t f***in’ walk,” Skew was saying. “We’re not in any state to be going up against three unknowns and,” she made air-quotes, “‘destructo-fists’.” I winced. My mouth had gotten a little away from me there.

I stepped towards them, waving a hand a little.“Um, yeah, sorry to interrupt. Is there a reason you guys are all just standing around instead of, you know, doing something?”

“That,” Tide growled, “is a very good question.” The mostly calm demeanour she’d had outside seemed to have dropped away as soon as she’d seen the fire. In fact, she seemed kind of antsy, hands clenching and unclenching and foot tapping as she stared at the fire.

“Because,” Skew said to me, ignoring her, “in case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve been through some shit tonight, and aren’t exactly in any shape to be rushing in?” She grinned humorlessly to reveal blood-stained teeth. “Especially when we don’t even know half of what we’re going up against. I dunno about what’s going on in your head, but personally, I’m not keen to die any time soon.”

“Shame,” Foresight muttered.

“So yeah, we’re trying to make something resembling a plan. If the other Outliers are in there, they can handle themselves for a minute longer. Besides, dollars to donuts Void’s in there, and she can probably handle the entire situation on her own.”

As if on cue, the front facade of the warehouse shattered as something smashed out from the inside. A white blur, it went flying through the air and slammed into the front of the building opposite, before dropping to the ground. Chunks of rubble sprayed out from the explosion, one large one landing only a few feet away from us. Dust swirled around the exit and impact points, but not enough to obscure the projectile, or the fact that it was person-shaped. They hung inside their impact crater for a second, before gravity reasserted itself and they fell to the ground, landing in a kneeling crouch. That… would be Void, then.

“Or maybe not,” Skew said resignedly.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support tempting fate,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Escape 19-Vignette


Tired Of My Lady.

One year and five months ago, or thereabouts.

“I didn’t need your help,” said Flint Perez, lying through his teeth.

Seven people stood in the alleyway, lit by the stars and the glow of the city, and only two of them were still upright. Five thugs lay sprawled in various positions, some with limbs pointing in awkward directions, others bleeding from various places. Flint leant against a wall, doing his best to stand up straight, while the other floated about a foot off the ground, held aloft by a breeze.

“Sure, sure,” Void agreed amicably, her voice surprisingly sarcasm-free. “You’d have pulled some trick out of nowhere and stopped that guy from stabbing you.”

“Don’t-” he hissed as he shifted slightly, “don’t condescend me.”

“I’m not,” she replied with a laugh, “I’m not. Sorry. I do genuinely believe that you’d have managed it. But you were already hurt-”

“I am not,” he snarled.

She snorted. “Yeah, you are. And he had a knife and you-” she looked to the side and saw his sword lodged in one of the walls, “-didn’t, so you’d have probably end up getting more hurt, and would have had to expend even more energy. And now you don’t have to.” She swept her arm across her body in a mock-bow. “You’re welcome.”

“I,” he repeated stubbornly. “Did. Not. Need. Your. Help.”

She laughed. “Man, you’re really sticking to your guns on this one, huh? Fine, fine. Everything would have been perfect, and I actually made things worse by helping out. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

He gritted his teeth. “Why are you here?”

“Would you believe I was just passing by?” she asked lightly.

“Nope.”

She shrugged. “Well, it’s the truth. In fact, I-” she stopped, tilted her head to the side. “Hold on a sec.”

The wind, which had been whistling in the background, suddenly picked up, shifting direction and howling past him. It caught Void and hurled her towards him, then shifted again just before she hit, blowing in the opposite direction and stopping her cold as she spun around. Dropping to the ground directly in front of him, she flung out both hands, and the wind redoubled, almost knocking him off his feet. He managed to catch himself, just, and looked up to see a large chunk of concrete drop to the ground in front of them, skidding forward slightly before coming to a stop. The wind died away, and Void dropped her hands, standing up straight. “Ooh, too bad!” she called down the alleyway. “Almost got me that time.”

Over the debris, Flint could see a figure stalking towards them. It was hard to tell, but in the lighting, it almost looked like a moving statue; oddly uniformly textured. Then they stepped into the light, and he revised his assessment. They didn’t just look like it. It was an actual moving statue, roughly hewn from concrete, with a pair of burning green eyes the only thing signifying it as alive.

He glanced at Void, and her masked face tilted in a way he instinctively read as a smile. “I said I was passing by. I didn’t say why.” She turned her gaze back to the statue, just as they came to a stop in the middle of the unconscious thugs.

“Oh?” Appropriately enough, their voice sounded gravelly and low, with an odd reverb, like it was coming from inside a cave. “You’ve finally decided to stop running?”

“I was never running, Ore,” Void replied. “Just choosing a better battlefield.”

Ore looked around at their surroundings. “You chose… poorly.”

“Really?” Flint blurted out without meaning to. “Indiana Jones?”

They looked at him. “‘Really’ yourself. You’re what, twelve? It’s way more surprising that you’ve seen them than the other way around.” He had to restrain himself from replying to the crack about his age, instead glaring daggers at them. “But really, Void. This is the best you could come up with? You couldn’t find anywhere better for yourself?”

“It’s not about the place,” she said confidently. “It’s about the people.”

“Oh hell no,” Flint said immediately. “Don’t involve me in your fuckin’ bullshit.” With a grunt effort, he pushed himself off the wall and hobbled a few steps away from Void. “I’m not with her!” he called out to Ore.

They looked at Void. “Is it, now?”

“Well,” she grumbled under her breath, “obviously I was expecting him to be a little less of a dick.”

“Yeah, well, that’s great and all, but I’m gonna go now.” He started moving backwards away from them both. “Have fun with your… whatever.”

“Mmm,” Ore said. “Yeah, no.” They reached one hand out to the side, and when it touched the wall, it melted into it, the texture bleeding up their arm. They yanked their arm back out, and with a violent tearing noise, a large chunk of the brickwork came with it, still attached. With a grunt of effort, they swung it forward, and the chunk detached and went flying upwards, arcing over Flint’s head and smashing into the ground behind him.

He glanced back at it, and sighed. “Just so you know,” he said to Void, “I blame you for this.”

“That’s fair!” she replied cheerily.

-----

“You haven’t heard the last of me!” Ore yelled as they melted into the ground and shot away, chunks of them still flaking off. “Mark my words! You’ll regret this day!” Then they were gone.

Flint let out a sigh of relief, slumping over and catching his breath. “If you,” he said between pants, “intended that to be some kind of trust-building exercise, you’re even worse than I thought.” He looked over at Void, who stood there looking as unharmed and peppy as ever. “And it’s already pretty bad.”

“Nah,” she said. “That wasn’t about trust, that was just using one problem to help solve another.” She walked over to him, and offered him an arm. “This is about trust.”

He looked down at the arm, then back up at her, sighed, and grasped it. “So I’m a problem, huh?”

“Don’t try and deny it,” she said. “Now, hold on. This’ll feel a bit weird.” His entire body suddenly went light, as if underwater, and he gasped involuntarily. A breeze rolled in out of nowhere, then strengthening and pulling the both of them upwards. In seconds, before he even really had time to process what was happening, they’d reached the top of one of buildings, and had been blown over onto the top. Once their feet touched ground, she let go of him, and his limbs resumed their normal heaviness. After the brief lightness, it was almost painful.

“Whoa,” he breathed, unable to help himself.

“It’s fun, isn’t it?”

“...yeah,” he admitted. He took a deep breath, and turned back to face her, only to find her in the act of removing her helmet. “Ah!” He quickly spun away. “Sorry, sorry.”

She laughed, the sound now unmuffled. “It’s fine, it’s fine.” Slowly, he turned again, to find her grinning at him. She was dark-skinned, with a wide, broad smile and eyes that sparkled with mirth, and frizzy black hair shaved close to the scalp. She tucked the helmet under one arm and stuck out a hand. “Natalie Wilson. But you can just call me Talie, everyone does. Nice to meet’cha.”

He stared suspiciously at her. “What is this?”

Her smile only grew wider. “Like I said, it’s about trust. I don’t need or expect you to reciprocate, but it’s a gesture to show that I’m sincere.” She waggled the hand a little.

Not really knowing why, he took it in his own. “...Flint Perez,” he said as he shook it. “Likewise.”

She beamed at him. “Flint! That’s amazing. Who names their kid Flint?”

“Well, I can think of at least two people,” he grumbled.

She smirked, but her face quickly grew more serious. “Flint, I’d like you to reconsider joining my little group. I think tonight has demonstrated that there are some problems you can’t solve on your own, and that there are some that you don’t need to. I’m not asking you to sign a contract or anything. Just… stay in contact, with me and the others. Let us know the state of things as far as you know them, and we’ll do the same. And if you need help, and are willing to admit you do, then you have somewhere to turn.”

He avoided her gaze, staring off into the distance. “Why do you want me?” he asked. “I’m nothing special, power-wise.”

“Well, no,” she admitted. “But from what I’ve seen, you’re quick on your feet, and obviously trained in hand-to-hand. But, more importantly, you’re sharp, and I like sharp.”

“Trying to butter me up?”

She shrugged a shoulder with a self-effacing smile. “A little. But the best way to do that is to tell the truth. So. You in?”

He stared up at the Tower for a few long seconds. “...I’ll think about it,” he said at last, then held up a hand when she started to speak. “Not a ‘no’ I’ll think about it, an ‘I’ll think about it’ I’ll think about it.”

“Well, I guess that’s the best I’m gonna get.” She didn’t seem too upset about it. “Will you be okay?”

“I’ll manage.” He turned to leave. “See you around, I guess.”

“See you round, Flint.” The wind began again, rustling in his ears, and there was a fluttering of fabric.

He got a few steps before a thought occurred to him, and he turned back around to see her hovering above the roof, beginning to drift away. “Have you got a name?” he asked her. “For the group, that is.”

She winked at him as the wind picked up and pulled her away. “We’re workshopping it!”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support off-screen violence,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Escape 19-VIII

Write To Me, And Escape.

“Okay, so we should have hurried.”

I glanced sideways at her. “Gee, ya think.”

We’d rounded a corner onto the street that our warehouse was on, and stopped dead in our tracks. The road stretched out ahead of us until about three buildings before ours, and then just… stopped. No more road, no more buildings, no more lights, just- nothing.

I stared at the nothingness for a few moments. “So. Someone’s erased the base. Gotta say, really wasn’t expecting that.”

“It’s not erased,” Foresight said, sounding surprisingly serious. We all turned to look at him, and found that he had his eyes closed, and was glowing faintly. “There’s a dome over it. Probably a sphere, actually, extending into the ground. Completely black; it’d be a lot easier to see in daytime.”

“How-” Tide and I spoke at the same time. We glanced at each other, and I waved a hand and let her talk. “How do you know?”

“I can see the other side. It ends about the same distance from our place on the other side, so-”

“It’s definitely centred there,” I finished the thought, cutting him off. “Not like we didn’t already know that.”

“Stonewall?” Freefall asked. She was still carrying me, so I had to twist my neck oddly to look at her.

“It does look like him,” Tide agreed. “Why would he do that, though?”

“He didn’t,” Foresight said. “His are solid, this isn’t.”

“Okay, so I know you like being all cagey about your power, but it’s totally like astral projection, right?” I said. “Come on, it’s obvious.” He ignored me, as did Tide, but Freefall chuckled quietly. The way I was positioned, I could actually feel it, which was mildly unnerving. “Thank you.”

“Well, if it’s not solid, can you see inside, then?”

“‘Not solid’ and ‘transparent’ aren’t the same thing. I get a very unpleasant tingling sensation when I get close, which is… a first.”

“Aww,” I cooed, “is baby scared?”

“I’d hit you, but you might actually die.” He considered it for a second. “Tempting as that is.”

“Well,” Tide said, “standing around here isn’t getting anything done.” She began walking down the street, and we followed.

“You say that now,” I quipped, “but five minutes from now when everything sorts itself out, you’ll feel pretty du-”

Freefall let me go for just a second, and my stomach lurched, but she caught me almost immediately. “Okay, message received,” I said, a little shakily.

Up close, the dome was still black, but not quite as impenetrably so. It shimmered slightly, shifting and flickering. It also didn’t have the same weight to it Stonewall’s power did, that sense of the light being erased when it touched it.

We all glanced at each other. “I say Foresight tests it,” I said immediately.

“Anyone got anything they’re not gonna miss?” Tide asked, ignoring me. Foresight pulled out something small and metallic; the bullet he’d caught. “Perfect.” She took it from him, and tossed it at the barrier.

It disappeared as soon as it touched it, the surface not changing in the slightest. “Why did you even keep that?” I asked him.

“For something exactly like this.”

“You were going to keep it, weren’t you?” His face didn’t move at all. “Hah! You were so proud! That’s amazing.”

“Skew, you need to get your shit together.” Tide actually sounded a little pissed.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” I said airily. “It’s all these endorphins from not being dead. Also, probably some kind of concussion. Second in as many days, actually. That can’t be healthy.”

“Really?” Foresight said acidly. “I haven’t noticed any difference.”

“See, that’s because you’re as dumb as a bag of shit.”

“I cannot believe I’m having to be the responsible one here,” Tide muttered, under her breath but loud enough for us to hear. “Making me fulfill some shitty gender stereotypes. Okay!” She clapped her hands together. “Skew, give me your scarf.”

“What?” My hand instinctively reached up to my throat, where said scarf had somehow remained through everything. “Why? I like this scarf.”

“Do you like it more than a finger? Because that’s the other option.”

I sighed, unraveled it and tossed it to her. She caught it with a nod, then turned and swished the edge through the barrier.

It emerged unscathed, and this time, there was a mild disturbance that followed in its wake, like water.

“Okay,” said Foresight, looking at the rapidly-fading ripples, “but we still don’t know. It could only affect organic things.”

“Screw it,” I said. “Let’s just blast through. I’d do it, but I’m out of juice. Tide?”

She glanced at the shield again, then shrugged. “Yeah. Yeah, fuck it. Why not.” Bracing herself, she clenched a fist and pulled it upwards, dragging an oblong swell of tarmac up in concert with it. She slammed the hand back down, and the oblong violently depressed, sending a wave shooting forward through the tarmac, and slamming into the barrier.

As soon as they made contact, the wave disappeared, and Tide staggered backwards, clutching at her head. “Mother of FUCK!” she screamed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “Fucking ow. God, that was awful.”

I eyed the shield again. “How much power did you put behind that?”

“A pretty decent amount,” she groaned.

It hadn’t even rippled. “Man, I’m glad I didn’t try that.”

“You’re welcome,” she snarked, sounding pained.

“No trouble. So we’ll need something pretty powerful to break through, huh?”

“I might be able to help with that,” came a new voice from behind us.

We all spun around (well, Freefall did the spinning for me) to find the girl with the lavender scarf from Wednesday standing there. What did she say her name was? Wasp? No, that wasn’t it. She had the same cobbled-together scarf, hood and goggles as last time, but she was wearing civilian clothes underneath them. Supporting her, one arm wrapped around her torso, was another girl, one I didn’t recognize. She was shorter, looking Native American at a guess, and dressed in jeans and a dark shirt, with one of those dark-green canvas jackets with all the patches. Strangely, she also wore a pair of mirrored sunglasses, even though it was a dark night.

Seeing our reaction, the girl (Whiff?) took a step backwards, forcing Shades to do the same. “Sorry, sorry sorry sorry,” she said hastily, holding up her free hand. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to- I was just-” Her gaze settled on me, and the shock was enough to jar her out of her stuttering. “Holy crap,” she breathed. “What the heck happened to you?”

“Many things,” I said tiredly. “Many, consecutive things. Hey…” the act of actually forming a sentence jogged my memory, “Wisp.”

“Skew,” Tide asked warily, looking at the two of them. “Who are they?”

“Oh! Right, sorry.” I’d forgotten Tide hadn’t actually met her at any point, or vice-versa. “Wisp, Tide. Tide, Wisp, and…” I trailed off, looking at the other girl.

“An innocent bystander,” she said, “who would very much like to leave.” Wisp shot her a sideways glance, and she sighed. “Kai.”

“Oookay then.” I turned my attention back to Wisp. “What are you doing here?”

She bit her lip, looking nervous. “Well, it’s kind of a long story? But, the, ah, people from the school, you know, Green Cloak and Metalface-”

“I call them the Prowlers,” I jumped in helpfully.

“The… Prowlers?” She considered it. “Yeah, okay. Anyway, I found them,” she gestured to her companion, “with Kai’s help, but they’d met up with some mercenaries. And they were talking about employers, and the government, and some datapad?” All four of us reacted to that; she didn’t seem to notice, but Kai did. “And the mercenary leader had files on all of you, and they were gonna attack you to get the datapad, but then they found out I was there, and-” she’d gradually been running out of brief through all of that, and she finally had to stop and take a breath. “Anyway, they’re two people down, but they’re still here, obviously, and we tried to get here ahead of them, but we didn’t. So we’re here to help.”

She’s here to help,” Kai jumped in. “I just wanted brownie points.”

I could see Tide trying to take that all in, and obviously not doing so well. “What did you mean, you could help? Earlier, that is.”

She frowned. “Well, you need something strong to get through that barrier, right? I’m pretty strong.”

Tide looked at her, then at Kai, holding her upright. “Are you.”

She blushed, embarrased. “Sorry. I know it must look- sorry. Here, I’ll show you. Kai, can you just help me- thanks.” They began moving over to the wall, and Wisp slid herself down it into a sitting position. She sagged, obviously weary, then closed her eyes. She remained like that for a moment or two, then her eyes opened, and she hopped up onto her feet unassissted.

“Could you have done that at any time?” Kai asked flatly. “We trekked halfway across town.”

“I know, I know. I couldn’t have done it before, though; it’s complicated. Thank you so much for your help. I get it if you want to leave now.”

The shorter girl looked away, sticking her hands in the pockets of her jacket. “I’m already here,” she said, doing a poor job of sounding casual, “might as well stick around.”

Wisp grinned, awkward but genuine. “Thank you,” she said again, then turned and began striding towards the barrier. “Okay, this should work.”

“How strong are you?” I asked curiously.

She bent down, and scooped out a chunk of concrete with her bare hand like it was plasticene. I stared at it. “Pretty strong,” she said.

“Uh-huh.” My head was suddenly filled with horrifying thoughts of what that would look like when done to human flesh.

She dropped the chunk, and moved until she was directly in front of the dome. She stopped, took a deep breath, then swung a fist at it. Poor technique, sloppy, but I guess she didn’t really need it with that much raw power. Still, there was a pretty decent chance she would have overbalanced even if the barrier hadn’t been completely unsubstantial.

With a slight yelp, she fell forward, disappearing through the blackness. We all jolted forward, then stopped, unsure what to do.

For a few seconds, there was nothing. Then, her head appeared back through the barrier, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. “Good news!” she said happily. “It’s not solid.”

“You don’t say. What’s on the other side?”

Her face grew a bit grim. “It’s probably better you see for yourself.”

I glanced at the other Outliers, even Foresight, and saw that everyone liked that statement about as much as I did. That is, not at all. But we steeled ourselves, and, bracing ourselves as we did so, walked straight into the black forcefield.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support venturing once more unto the breach,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Escape 19-VII

Nobody’s Poet.

Occam had pulled the knife out of his foot, and even in the low lighting, I could see how nasty the wound was. I was actually a little impressed he could put any weight at all on it.

Only a little, though.

Foresight had put the hurt on him, but apart from the hole in his foot, he was still better off than I was. Considering none of my injuries were as specifically debilatating as his (my shoulder was probably on the same level, but I could manage a lot easier with one arm than he could with one foot), and we were on about even footing, pun completely intended.

I tried an exploratory jab, just a probe, and he batted it aside. The movement was inefficient, though, and he had to shift his weight slightly to do it, causing him to wince. I wanted to capitalize on that, strike while he was on the back foot (also intended), but by the time I began to move he’d already recovered. I was slow, sluggish; every part of me ached and moaned, and my reflexes were all over the place.

As if to prove the point, he swung both swords horizontally, and the only thing I could do to get out of the way was let my legs collapse underneath me and fall to the ground. I did manage to pink him as I fell, though, just below his ribcage. There was no resistance from the blade at all; it was like swinging through air. Crimson, dark in the half-light, sprayed out from the wound, and he hissed and took a step back. Which was good, because the landing nearly did me in.

“I am,” I wheezed after the pain had receded to manageable levels, “spending too much fucking time on my back today.” There was probably a joke there.

Miraculously, I hadn’t lost my grip on the sword or stabbed myself with it, which I’d half expected given what the day had been like up until that point. I stabbed it downwards into the concrete, sinking to about halfway up the blade, and used it as a leverage point to stand. The motion sent another spike of pain through my chest, and a few violent, racking coughs shot through me. I could taste iron in the back of my throat, setting off another round of coughing, and the taste evolved into the uncomfortable sensation of liquid swishing around in there. I nearly vomited, and the leftover nauseau from the trip didn’t help.

Occam hadn’t come any closer while I’d been incapacitated. In fact, he’d actually taken a few steps away and dismissed one of his swords, holding the now-free hand to the cut at his side. Between that, the gashes Foresight had given him and the vent in his foot, he was probably losing blood at a very unhealthy rate. If I just walked away, he’d probably topple over within a few minutes. Then again, if I tried to walk away, I’d do the same. So now we were playing the world’s slowest, most bleed-y game of chicken, where the most likely reason for someone to blink first was that blood had dripped into their eye.

The sword came out of the ground with about as much resistance as it had going in, and I held it at a loose ready as I approached Occam. Well, I say ‘approached’, but ‘trudged’ was probably more accurate. I swung first, and he amateurishly parried and hit back. We exchanged a few blows like that, neither of us able to put any real force behind them, and the blades proved to be as unable to cut each other as they were able to cut everything else. He pinked me, on my useless arm, I returned the favor on his cheek. Within barely any time at all, both of us were panting, and practically slumping over on our feet. It was, without a doubt, the most pathetic fight I’d ever been in.

I summoned up what remaining gumption I had, and threw it behind one powerful strike, straight overhead, like chopping wood. Wasted energy: he managed to catch it, hand coming away from his side to support the block. Then, just to make matters worse, his hand snaked up past it, tapped the side of my sword, and it disintigrated into dust.

Wondered why he hadn’t done that, I thought, far too calm, as I fell towards the sword’s edge. I was off-balance, already tipping, and if nothing changed my head would come rolling cleanly off. Gravity and inertia were holding me to my course, so the only option was to make him alter it instead.

Which sounds very fancy and clever, but really what I did was spit the mouthful of blood I still had straight into his face.

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t dignified, but it did the job. He jerked back, sword moving out of a lethal position as he screamed. It had gotten in his eyes, which couldn’t have been fun.

I could’ve stopped my fall, but instead I leaned into it, hitting Occam with all my weight and baring him to the ground, weary and bloody hands closing around his throat. The impact drove all the breath out of him, which was convenient for me; I tightened my grip as he began to gasp and choke. His hands began scrabbling for the sword where it had fallen a foot away, but I moved on leg to kneel on top of his arm and pin it to the ground.

Slowly, his struggles grew more frantic, and less energetic, until they stopped entirely and he slumped, eyes rolling back in his head. Hastily, I released my grip and leaned back: I wanted him unconscious, not dead.

Speaking of which, unconsciousness was sounding pretty nice right about then. I didn’t think anyone would mind too much if I just lay down and had a little nap…

Hands caught me before I could keel over, grabbing me by the armpits and hoisting me to my feet. “Easy there, Flint,” said a worried voice. “We got them, it’s all good.”

With some effort, I pushed an eye open halfway for long enough to get a snapshot. Tide and Foresight were standing in front of me, looking worse for wear but alive and upright. Process of elimination told me that Freefall was the one holding me up. “Never doubted you for a second,” I murmured.

“Great, yay, touching.” Foresight rolled his eyes. “Can we go now?”

“We could,” I said tiredly, “except for the fact that I’m reasonably certain I can’t walk-” Freefall hoisted me up completely off the ground, and before I could react she was carrying me, bridal-style. “Uh.” I didn’t have it in me to make a thing of it. “...thanks,” I said awkwardly, patting her on the arm. I wasn’t light, but you wouldn’t know it from how casual she seemed.

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied gruffly. A little… too gruffly? Nah, I was being dumb, slash concussed.

“Sorry to be a spoilsport, then, but I don’t think I could deal with any more jumps.”

“We’ll walk, then,” Tide said reassuringly. “It’s not far.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, only about 10 minutes.” She smiled.

“Besides, it’s not like we’re in any rush to get back.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support situational irony,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.