Stand 23-I

HANNAH
The Darkest Of Times.

“Come on, come on, come on.” The muttering was barely even a conscious action, as I dug through the pile of rubble. “Come on, come on…”

I hefted a large piece and tossed it to one side, where it shattered in two. Removing it revealed yet more featureless chunks of concrete and rebar, and underneath, the slightest patch of gnarled brown. Oh thank goodness. “Stump?” I yelled as I began digging faster. “Can you hear me?”

A muffled groan echoed out from underneath the pile, then I word I couldn’t quite make out. Sounded kind of like “hand”, presumably as in “give us a”.

“I’m working on it,” I called back. It wasn’t complicated, just hard. Lots of bits to toss aside, and if I moved too fast, they just shattered into smaller bits. Finally, after a few minutes, I managed to uncover his head and most of his torso and arms. The wooden armor was heavily chipped, and one of the hands had been torn off entirely. I gasped involuntarily when I saw it. “Your hand!”

He groaned again, and slowly sat up, showering rubble behind him. He looked down at the… stump, at the end of his wrist. “Oh. I’ll regrow that later.”

“You can just do that?”

He sighed heavily. “I could do it now if I wasn’t-” the chips in the wood slowly began to patch themselves up, “-tired.” It was fascinating to watch, almost like a timelapse.

“You and me both,” I replied tiredly, offering him an arm up. He grabbed it with his one remaining hand, and pulled himself onto his feet, dislodging the rubble on top of his legs.

“What happened?” he asked immediately, shaking his head like he was clearing it. “Where is every-” he caught sight if my midsection. “Holy… Wisp, your…” he stammered for a second. “How are you not dead? Where are all your organs?”

“I'm fine,” I waved him off.

“You're obviously not.”

“I'm walking, aren't I?” I turned and began moving away, to demonstrate.

“You're a walking smoke machine.” He followed me, his gait slightly awkward. “I'm guessing Paladin’s…” the word “dead” hung unspoken in the air.

“Gone,” I finished instead, pointing tiredly at the Tower in the distance. “Grew wings and flew away.”

“...what.”

“I wish I was joking.” I was pretty sure Awestruck had been tossed over here; having him would make getting others out easier.

He spluttered incoherently for a few seconds. “We need to- we should- why are you so calm?”

“Calm. Heh.”

Shut up. “I’m not.” I eyed the pile of rubble; it was mostly a few larger pieces. It would take being contorted into some improbably angles for a person to be completely hidden underneath it. “So what should we do, then.” I began walking on. Based on where I’d been thrown, the other Guardians should be… over there, somewhere.

“Go after her!” he almost-yelled. “H-Wisp, what’s wrong with you?”

“Did I mention the part about the wings?” I snapped back. “There was no way I could keep up. And you were all-”

I was interrupted by the sound of rubble crumbling behind me. I spun around to find the pile I’d dismissed falling apart on its own, revealing a small mirrored oblong within. It blinked out of existence a second later, leaving Kai standing there, cradling one arm. She’d lost her sunglasses, too, and was squinting slightly. “Ow,” she said loudly.

“Are you okay?” I asked, striding back towards her.

She waved me down. “Fine. Well, apart from the broken arm. Fine apart from the broken arm.” I winced as I got a better look at it. That wasn’t a healthy angle.

“Do you know where the others ended up?”

She shook her head. “Flash of light, we all went flying, I put up a shield, and we’re here now.”

“Wisp!” Stump had continued on instead of turning back, and was now standing in front of a collapsed building, gesturing me over.

“Can you walk?” I asked Kai.

She stared at me flatly. “No, I can’t, because I walk on all four limbs like a gorilla.”

I couldn’t be bothered, so I just turned and began jogging over.

As I grew closer, Thrust clambered out of the hole in the front of the building. He seemed virtually unhurt, but uncharacteristically grim. “Can’t move anything,” he said to Stump. A second later, the interior of the building came into view, and I realized why.

The second level of the building had collapsed downwards as well as the front, flooding the bottom level with debris. Lying half-buried inside it was Comet, her bottom half and part of her torso covered. Her helmet had been knocked off, revealing thin, severe features, with a heavy cut just below one eye. Surprisingly, she was conscious, but from the look on her face, not by much.

“What happened?” she asked immediately, her voice weak but firm. “Is Paladin-”

I gave the same explanation again. Thrust’s face dropped, but Comet just seemed… tired.

“What now, boss?” Stump asked. “Are you...?”

“I am not going to die, if that is what you’re asking,” she replied. “But I think I have lost a lot of blood. Wisp,” she said, switching her attention back to me, “how fast was Paladin flying?”

“Compared to what?” I asked. “Not Awestruck-fast, but faster than running.”

She nodded, frowning. “Thrust. How quickly can you get to the Tower?”

“From here? A few minutes, if I…” he trailed off as he realised where she was going. “Oh no.”

“Yes,” she said simply. “Wisp, go with him. You have the most offensive capability of anyone remaining.”

“What?” I protested. “No. Can’t the other heroes at the Tower handle it?”

“What other heroes?” she replied. “There were only a few who weren’t with us, and none particularly powerful. We might still have another chance at stopping her. Thrust can carry you there; the rest of us will follow.”

“Not the way you are, you won’t.”

“I can not carry her,” Thrust protested.

“I can become very light,” I answered without thinking. Darnit, don’t help her case!

“You can and you will.” Comet’s tone brooked no argument. “You need to restrain her. If you can get to the Tower before her, Graves might have something.”

“Comet,” Stump protested. “This is-”

“The only option we have,” she cut him off, and then coughed roughly, little flecks of blood spraying out. “You need to go, now,” she continued hoarsely. “We’ve wasted enough time already.”

I groaned, running a hand back through my hair. “Comet-”

Go,” she snapped.

We went.

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