Skulker’s eyes focused on the darkening sky above him, framed all around by the smoking and jagged edges of a roof. Acid burned his nostrils. Movement at the rim of the roof caught his eye. Ix strode forward with fire in her eyes, one of her soldiers close behind. Skulker chuckled through the pain, trying to muster the strength to move. His body responded sluggishly. That could have gone better. Fuck. The soldier took aim.
Something big moved in the way, blocking his vision, just as the shots rang out. Olivia crouched over him, hissing in pain. Not dead yet, bitches! Skulker rolled over, his shoulder screaming in agony. A small chunk of the roof covering one of his legs fell to the floor with a dull thud. Olivia picked him up the rest of the way.
“Thanks!” he gasped just before he teleported to under where Ix and the soldier stood. The gutted kitchen of the abandoned apartment they found themselves in offered no protection otherwise. “Move!”
Skulker led the charge through a broken door, Olivia’s clawed feet scrambling on the tiled floor as she followed. Dead wood clattered on the ground behind them as Ix’s golem dropped down and gave chase. They found themselves in a darkened hallway, doors lining either side. Skulker spotted a dull green Exit sign and rushed off to the side. Keep up, Olivia.
A few more rifle shots hit Olivia in the back as Skulker teleported to the end of the hallway. Skulker aimed his pistol back towards Olivia.
Olivia took the hint and ducked to the side, giving Skulker a clear line of sight to fire off a few more shots. The soldier pulled back into the doorway, one of Skulker’s shots taking out a chunk of the old wooden frame an inch from his chest.
“Here,” shouted Olivia, finally caught up to Skulker. She threw her weight against another door to a staircase, shattering it completely into four separate pieces. Skulker ushered her in first, pulling out a grenade from his belt. Just as the golem and soldier poked their heads around their corners again, Skulker yanked the metal pin out and lobbed the grenade. Rather than sticking around, he rushed after Olivia, teleporting to just behind her back.
They were only halfway down to the next level when the grenade exploded, setting loose clouds of grey dust all around them. Olivia’s clawed feet kept slipping on the edges of the stairs, nearly sending her tumbling down before she managed to catch herself.
“Here,” barked Skulker as they approached the next floor. Olivia took the cue and launched herself through the heavy door. “Techies, how we lookin’?”
A moment later, the comms crackled and Delta’s voice came through. “Quarrel’s with Roach. Me and Gears are almost done.”
“Roach still down?” Skulker asked as he ran. Shit, I thought he’d have healed by now. He and Olivia took off down the hallway
“Yes. Where’s Ix?”
“Right behind us. Gotta go.”
Olivia lumbered ahead, hunched over and wings tucked in close in the tight space of the hallway. As they reached the end, Skulker spun and threw himself at one of the doors. It burst open, the old wood giving way as the impact sent a lance of pain through his shoulder. Oliva stumbled after him, missing the top of the doorframe with her head by an inch. Her wings brushed against the scattered and torn furniture. Skulker spotted blood seeping from wounds on her back. She needs to get in the air. She can’t get shot much more.
“Get out of here,” he said, pulling Olivia towards the window.
“What? No,” she said, staring at him in shock. Behind them, he heard the clattering of dead wood and the pounding of two sets of boots.
“No time. Less arguin’, more movin’.”
“I’ll keep them busy, you’re cramped an’ slow in here.” She hesitated, one hand on the window, looking back at him. “Now.”
As Olivia finally disappeared through the window, Skulker turned back towards the approaching sounds of Ix and her companions. He exited the apartment just as Ix and her golem reached the opposite end of the hallway where he’d come from. Hi! Skulker fired off a few more shots as he backed away. The golem simply surged forward, placing the bulk of its amorphous body in front of Ix and absorbing the bullets. Skulker spun and teleported to yet another staircase at the end of the hallway.
He scrambled down the stairs, as fast as his feet and powers would carry him. Two more stories down, he headed back into the building proper, only to find Ix’s remaining soldier waiting, rifle at the ready. Fuck, he headed straight down. Skulker leapt across the hallway and tucked himself in a doorframe as best he could as the soldier opened fire. He fired back until his gun clicked empty again.
Bullets flew past as he reloaded. Why this floor? I just picked this one at random. His eyes strayed back to the stairs he’d come from. Ix will catch up soon, got to move. The moment he heard a break in the gunfire, he jumped out of cover and teleported, just in case it was a feint on the soldier’s part. An open door caught his eye. Cool. Another teleport brought him into the apartment and out of immediate harm’s way.
This apartment appeared lived in. Several military issue cots lay scattered around the room, with packs beneath them and thin blankets scattered on top. Curtains waved ever so slightly by an opened window. Quick exit. A TV was set up on an old wire spool about three feet off the ground, its screen flickering with Taauth’s and Cuauhtemoc’s meeting. He tuned it out and turned back to the front door, preparing his last flashbang. Stun her, kill her, get this over with.
He poked his head out as far as he dared and listened. Ix, her soldier, and her golem closed in. With the pull of a metal pin, he tossed the flashbang out and ducked back, covering his head. He only heard a hiss, rather than an explosion. He turned back around to find a small puff of smoke leaked out of the flashbang. Ix glowered at him, now only a few feet away and advancing. Fuck. He backpedaled back into the apartment, pistol in hand.
The golem led the charge through the door, taking the first of Skulker’s reactionary shots. Great fucking plan, me. Black acid arced through the ceiling towards him, debris raining down in its path. He ducked his head as a particularly large chunk fell a few inches in front of him.
Screaming came out through the TV, loud enough to cut through the sounds of fighting. Skulker, Ix, and the soldier all hesitated. That doesn’t sound like diplomacy. They met eyes, and came to an unspoken truce. They want to know too. Keeping an eye on each other, they both maneuvered to where they could both see the TV screen and each other. Skulker made sure the window was no more than ten feet away, to his right. The soldier, rifle still raised, squared his shoulders facing him. Ix and her golem simply froze, transfixed.
A bright flash filled the screen, and the camera shook violently. It focused just in time to see a massive boulder the size of a schoolbus rise from the earth. Skulker caught the smallest glimpse of a person standing atop of it. There’s Cuauhtémoc. Most of the sound had cut out, whatever microphones had been set up for the meeting were too far from the action or simply destroyed, but even so an evil laugh seemed to fill Skulker’s ears. Another, smaller figure also took to the air on its own.
In the sky, a storm of obsidian filled the air around what Skulker assumed to be Taauth. The maelstrom closed in closer and closer. Then the shards stopped, like they’d hit molasses instead of air. A white beam lanced out from Taauth’s hand. Cuauhtemoc ducked underneath just in time. The lance struck another boulder he held in the air, turning half of it to dust. Magic can do that? The camera shook again, waving around so that Skulker and Ix couldn’t see what was going on
Ben took the time to take stock of his surroundings. He checked on the open window, and his unobstructed path to it. I’m on the second floor, a teleport should keep me from breaking my legs. Ix also cast a sidelong glance at him, her hand clenching to a fist. The other soldier kept a tight grip on his rifle.
The camera steadied again. Cuauhtemoc and Taauth were higher in the air now, harder to see through the swirling mass of stones. Then, one broke from the whirlwind. It cracked and twisted, in complete defiance of logic, at a fixed point in the air. It spread rough wings as four legs jutted out from beneath it. The new, massive winged lion let out an ear shattering roar that nearly blew out the speakers of the TV. It flapped its wings and flung itself in front of a boulder flung at Taauth, shattering it as it passed through, looking unscathed. Another boulder froze and began shaking and twisting. Cuauhtemoc hurled himself forward, along with eight more boulders arrayed behind him in an arrowhead formation.
A black bubble formed around Taauth. Cuauhtemoc’s lead boulder crashed into it and disintegrated. He caught his fall with another, decent sized boulder as his arrowhead hammered and battered away at the orb, seemingly making no impact. Obsidian chunks began raining down near the onlookers. A third boulder began warping. The two combatants were very high in the sky.
The boulders seemed to slow, as Cuauhtemoc brought himself in front of Taauth’s bubble. The camera zoomed in, enough for Skulker to make out his arms raised to either side. He seemed to be shouting a challenge to Taauth, face red as his mouth moved. His stone drew closer and closer to the bubble.
In a flash, faster than Skulker’s eyes could track, the bubble disappeared and a flash of golden light shot from Taauth to the center of Cuauhtemoc’s chest.
Cuauhtemoc, five hundred year old emperor, savior, and protector of the Aztec empire, fell. The room fell dead silent, as the massive rocks and boulders tumbled to the earth, along with the much smaller form of a man. He’s going to get up, right? He always does. Everything stayed dead silent. No figure rose from the mass of obsidian shards. Skulker shot another glance at Ix. She and her soldier started, simply waiting. The rocks didn’t move, didn’t show any sign of external control, beyond the three winged lions still circling in the sky.
I’ve seen all I need. Skulker, slowly at first, headed towards the window. Ix and the soldier were slow to respond, eyes still fixed, disbelieving, on the screen as he teleported straight for the opened window. He leapt, tucked into a ball, and hoped he wouldn’t catch his foot or arm on the wall. As a belated shot rang out behind him, he bounced off of the window frame and found himself outside, three stories up, in the air. He teleported straight down before he could build up too much downward momentum and landed in a roll on the street below.
He sprinted, back to their original meeting point. He spotted Olivia circling above in his peripherals. The others were already back in the cars, engines idling. Quarrel cradled Roach in the back of the truck, his veins still dark, though not as jet black as they had been when Ix had first arrived in the taco shack. She had her goggles up on her forehead, and her eyes narrowed at Skulker as he teleported to Amanda’s car.
“Was it worth it?” asked Skulker, between heaving breaths. He checked over his shoulder at the still empty streets as her climbed in the car. Sirens wailed in the distance, growing closer and closer.
“I think so,” replied Amanda. “Get in, we’re getting out of here.” As she put the car in gear, helmet to her side, she looked back at him and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I think Taauth just killed Cuauhtemoc.”