Ash – Keep Away

The roof behind Ben exploded. He tore his attention from the peeling wall before him to twist around, catching sight of two metallic figures jumping down the new hole in the ceiling. Aw hell. The barrels of the rifles they held flashed, though Ben saw no sign of recoil. Roach’s head jerked back. Amanda collapsed.

“Shit!” Ben yelled, alerting Rob and Preacher, who still watched the wall.

Preacher flipped the table towards the gap in the wall as the figures from the roof hit the floor. Quarrel shot one of the figures in the chest, the bolt simply bouncing off the metal chest plate. Metal plates encased the lithe figure, with plenty of joints and seams to allow for a whole range of motion.

“Robot!” yelled Miya from across the confusing mill of people. A gunshot rang out.

Olivia hissed and grabbed one of them; Chris shifted to liquid form and barreled towards the other. The one closest to Ben jumped out of Chris’s way,  far faster than even its small stature would have suggested. Ben drew one of the two knives in his belt.

Chris, still liquid, squared off against the nearest robot. It backed up a couple steps and aimed at Ben. Nope. Ben teleported to his left as Chris moved to cut the robot off on the right. Just before Ben teleported again, fire burst in from the ruined wall.

Ben teleported, taking himself out of the worst of the flames. However, his sleeve had caught fire. He clamped down on the urge to flail in panic and swatted the flames down while keeping moving with another teleport. Hot, hot, fire hot. Movement in his peripherals caught his attention. Ben turned, and the robot aimed at him. Enough of that.

He teleported to the robot’s right. As the robot swiveled, tracking him, he jabbed his knife into its stomach with a laugh. Surprise! The knife tip barely brushed the joint he aimed for before the robot bashed his hand away with the butt of its rifle. The knife clattered to the ground. Ben ducked as the robot aimed back at him.

Without time to draw his second knife, and the garrote in his pocket worthless against an opponent without a nice soft windpipe, Ben instead closed the gap between him and the robot.The instant he passed the end of the barrel, the rifle would only be good as a bludgeon. He grabbed the barrel of the rifle and the robot’s trigger hand, pushing up.

The robot’s shot went up, well away from Ben. The robot pushed back, nearly knocking Ben off his feet. His hand, his three fingered hand, slipped. The robot’s free hand released the rifle and struck him in the ribs. Ben saw stars. The next blow fell and Ben blacked out.

***

Ben regained consciousness, his head pounding. Someone was screaming. Something burning crackled. Something was buzzing. He suppressed a groan of pain and forced himself up to see just how bad things were.

Preacher lay dead beneath a door, a beam of wood jutting from his still chest. The robot and the unseen mage beyond the wall who controlled the flames tormented Chris with bullets and fireballs in the center of the room. Chris tried to keep to the center of the room for more options to maneuver, but the projectiles inched him ever closer to the corner of the warehouse.

On the other side of the warehouse, an absolutely enormous man closed in on Quarrel. Miya and Olivia had their hands full with the second robot. People popped up from behind the torn wall and shot indiscriminately into the warehouse. Oh, well this sucks.

The closest robot started sobbing, even as it fired a couple more shots into liquid Chris. He flowed out of the way of a fireball, and the robot turned its back on Ben to track him. Enough of that.

Ben drew his switchblade from his boot, ran a couple steps, then teleported to the robot’s back. The robot twisted around. He stabbed down into a kink in the armor of the robot’s neck. Its head twitched. He withdrew the knife and wrapped his other arm around its neck, stepping back to keep behind the robot and pull it off balance.

The robot let out a desperate scream and dropped its rifle. Its metal hands struggled to find purchase on his arm as he pulled it off its feet. You like knives? He shoved the knife into the joint in the stomach area he’d aimed for before. One of its hands withdrew from his arm and elbowed his hand. The knife stuck in the robot broke from the hilt as its elbow collided.

Damn it. Ben pulled it a couple more paces away from its discarded rifle. The robot twisted. Ben moved with it, keeping his grip. Its other hand quit grabbing at his arm. Uh oh. Ben threw the robot to the side and released it. It slammed face first into the ground. Ben caught sight of a knife in one of its hands. No fair.

The robot pushed itself up and on its feet faster than Ben ever could. Something roared in the background. Right as the robot advanced, Ben turned and teleported away. I ain’t sticking around to get stabbed. Someone across the warehouse roared. Then Ben glimpsed a bright flash of orange light.

He teleported again, and a fireball hurtled through the the air where he’d just been standing. The fireball careened into the far wall, leaving it warped and melted.

Someone shot at Ben. He teleported again without thinking, and barely dodged a swing of the robot’s knife. Then liquid Chris grabbed the robot from behind, lifted it into the air, and slammed it headfirst into the ground .

Ben blinked. I just watched a ball of goo suplex a robot. These are glorious times we live in! Chris shifted back to human and tackled Ben to the ground. A couple fireballs flew overhead.

“We need to leave,” yelled Chris as he climbed off of Ben.

“Yep,” Ben shouted back.

The gunmen seemed focused on Olivia instead of Ben and Chris. The fire guy, however, lobbed another fireball. Chris jumped out of the way and Ben rolled on the floor. How do you have so much magic juice still?

Quarrel joined them. “Roach and the others are gone,” she called to them, shooting off a long bolt into the arm of the robot. The bolt pinned it to the ground. The robot pulled at the bolt, metal creaking in protest. A small pool of brown oil formed on the concrete floor.

“Door,” yelled Chris, pointing at the ruined door.

They ran. “Preacher,” said Quarrel as they passed his body. She stopped.

Ben grabbed her and pushed her forward. “Not worth it.” A fireball hit the wall a bare foot behind him. “Move!” Fire hot.

She hesitated for a second, then obeyed. Chris shifted to liquid, then burst through the ruined door to the outside. Gunfire. Good man. Take those bullets. Quarrel went next, growling something angry at the gunmen outside. My turn.

Ben ducked through the door in case anyone still happened to be aiming at it. Chris had everyone fairly occupied, tossing a couple men aside like rag dolls. Quarrel shot the gunmen he didn’t have wrapped up. One man about two feet from Ben held one hand to the bolt in the leg, the other hand scrambling for a dropped handgun.

Ben kicked him where the bolt stuck out. The man screamed and collapsed. I bet that hurt. Ben grabbed his handgun off the ground. He looked around and spotted a small group of gunmen, five strong. Oh, hi guys. Hope this works. He froze time.

One.

Ben broke into a sprint through the colorless world.

Two.

He ducked under a bolt, frozen in midair, and kept moving.

Three.

Still sprinting. His eye twitched. He shoved a hand in his pocket for his garrote, little more than a length of fishing wire strung between two bits of dense foam to keep his hands relatively intact.

Four.

His head pounded.

Five.

Blood roared in his ears. He reached the men. The two in front aimed at Quarrel.

Six.

Make it stop. He squeezed between the front two.

Seven.

Fuck this. He wrapped one end of his garrote around the index finger and pinkie of his maimed hand and let time resume.

Before the gunmen could react, he shot the two aiming men and a third. Another swung his rifle towards Ben. He batted the rifle out of the way with his left hand, then shot two bullets into his chest. The gun clicked impotently the third time Ben pulled the trigger. Something slammed into his shoulder.

Ben jumped back. The fifth man swung his gun like a club. Ben backed up a pace and dropped the now useless handgun. The man froze in indecision. Ben faked a jump to the man’s right, then teleported to his left. Ben smiled. The man fell for the fake, turning his back to Ben. He wrapped his garrote around the man’s neck. His full hand caught the other end. Ben pulled and the man went down gurgling as the garrote bit deep into his throat. Easy day.

Quarrel shot another gunman, unaware of what had transpired behind her. Chris finished the final two men in his grasp and reverted to human form.

“Come on,” Chris urged. No one else appeared to try to kill them. And the annoying buzzing had stopped as well.

Way is clear. Fuck yeah. That’s everyone, right? Hold up. “Wait, wait!” Ben called to Quarrel and Chris. They hesitated. “Olivia,” Ben reminded them.

From within the warehouse, Ben heard Olivia roar. Then she was thrown through the wall. She came to a rest a teleport away from Ben. She did not move. Fuck. About to have company, too. Ben teleported to Olivia. She raised her head.

OK, movement is good. Olivia snarled as he approached. Damn it. He took a cautious step closer. She hissed and slammed a hand down towards his foot. He jumped back a couple inches. How the fuck did we forget you back there?

“Come on, it’s me. Get up, we gotta go.” He crouched down to get to eye level with her. She continued hissing, watching him beneath a black eye. She struggled up onto hands and knees.

“Olivia!” he repeated. “You remember me. You remember me, right?” He glanced up. The robot climbed through the hole Olivia had made. The massive man strode through the doorway, his shoulder shattering the remainder of the frame. Shotty?

“Ben, Olivia!” shouted Chris. He charged towards them and shifted to liquid. Quarrel stood between the empty streets and the enemy infested warehouse.

Olivia hissed again, even as Chris passed her and collided with Shotty.

“Olivia,” Ben shouted at her, leaning forward. “You are Olivia, remember? I am Ben. Come on, you know me.”

The hissing trailed off. Olivia hesitated. The robot jumped down from the wall, and three more bolts immediately struck it. In the meantime, Shotty waved at Chris like an annoying fly.

“Come on, Olivia, we gotta get out of here.” Ben extended his hand to her. Please don’t take more fingers. After a moment, she took it.

He pulled her to her feet. “Come on,” he said. Fuck, she’s heavy. She took a step and stumbled. He guided her away, her leaning heavily on him. OK, I can’t carry you. “Olivia, can you fly?”

She nodded. “Sorry,” she murmured. Sorry for what?

“Get out of here, we’ll meet up later. Go,” he said, letting her take her own weight.

“But-” she began.

“GO!” he repeated. He slapped her on the back for encouragement.

She jumped into the air and spread her wings. She kept climbing, even as men flowed from either corner of the warehouse and opened fire on her. Ben soon lost sight of her in the night sky.

“Quarrel, Chris, outta here,” Ben shouted over the sounds of fighting. Quarrel began to back up, but Chris stayed stuck to Shotty, who growled in frustration and continued to try to pull Chris off of him. “Chris!” repeated Ben.

Chris oozed off of Shotty, though he kept most everyone’s attention.

“What is he…” said Quarrel.

“Distraction. Run,” said Ben. Don’t think much can hurt him, besides the fire guy. The two of them ran off down the street.

“Our cars… this way. I drove,” said Quarrel between breaths.

They rounded a corner, passing another boarded up warehouse. Distribution center? Dunno. Ben heard a slithering behind them. Chris, still a liquid, caught up with them. He shifted to human, then promptly collapsed. Ben skidded to a stop, Quarrel following suit a moment later. Uhhh…

Chris lay in the street, unmoving. Not even breathing. The hell? Ben teleported to him and checked his pulse. Nothing. Right as Ben began to worry, Chris drew in a long gasping breath.

Chris groaned and began to get up.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” asked Quarrel, behind Ben.

“Power… kind of die every time I use it,” answered Chris as he struggled to his feet. “I’m good, can’t use my power much more though.”

Rapid metallic footsteps caught Ben’s attention. The robot sprinted after them down the street, closing the distance. Ben smiled. “Go,” he said to the others.

They ran, Chris managing to keep pace with Quarrel. Ben waved to the approaching robot. Its head hung to the side, swaying slightly as it closed in. You wanna play? Ben let out a low laugh, raised his leg, and teleported. His kick caught the robot in the chest.

Ben chuckled as the robot staggered. He stopped laughing when the robot pulled its knife back out and slashed. Nope. He teleported past the robot. Ben felt a grin form on his face once again. I can play the keep away game too. Another teleport put him further down the street. The robot gave chase. Speedy motherfucker.

Ben teleported again. He reached a chain link fence topped with razor wire. He teleported along the fence twice more. The robot stopped. Eh? The robot considered him for a moment, then ran in pursuit of Chris and Quarrel, ignoring Ben completely. I’ll have none of that.

Ben ran and teleported off. Right as he got in range, he lunged. The robot turned. Ben teleported. The robot grabbed him and slammed him to the ground.

He lay stunned for a moment. The robot walked up to him and struck. Bad.

Ben raised his arms, taking the brunt of the blow with them. The knife cut between his forearms. He rolled out of the way of a kick. The pavement cracked where the robot’s foot slammed down. He tried to jump to his feet, but a kick to the stomach sent him down again.

An engine roared, and a car sent the robot flying. Bwah? Chris opened the back door. “In, get in!” No complaints here.

Ben staggered to his feet and climbed into the car. “Go!” he yelled the instant his feet left the ground.

Quarrel hit the gas and sped away. The robot simply stood there, until she rounded a corner and Ben lost sight of it. Oh thank god. He sighed and leaned his head back with a smile. I’m going to be feeling this city for the next month.

“Know anythin’ ‘bout the others?” he asked after a minute, after regaining his breath.

“Roach got them to a hospital,” replied Chris.

“He’s friends with a couple of important people there,” explained Quarrel.

“That where we’re headed,” said Chris. They drove in silence for another minute.

“Preacher’s dead, ya know,” said Ben.

“I know,” snapped Quarrel. She took a breath. “Nothing I can do about that right now,” she continued in a more level tone. Well, I suppose that’s as healthy an attitude as one can have about that.

“Hospital people OK with us?” asked Chris, steering the conversation elsewhere.

“Yes. They’re good, and discrete. We should have a waiting room to ourselves,” replied Quarrel.

“Amanda alive?” asked Ben.

“Hopefully,” answered Chris. Ben closed his eyes. Fuck.

***

They walked into the waiting room of the hospital. The nurse who’d escorted them from the main office left them. Inside were Miya, Roach, and Rob.

Quarrel joined Roach, the two of them stood off to the side. Ben took the seat next to Rob. “How’s Amanda doin’? Do ya know?” he asked.

“They rushed her off to surgery the moment we got in,” replied Rob.

Miya hung her head. “Haven’t told us anything else,” she murmured.

“Did they say anything else?” asked Chris.

“Nope,” replied Rob, his face stony.

“She was struggling to breathe when we brought her in. I did what I could. I don’t… I don’t know,” said Miya, her voice cracking.

“Gotta wait,” said Rob.

Ben nodded. I’m not a surgeon.

“Wait, what about Olivia? She can’t come in here,” asked Ben. I ain’t forgetting her again, either.

Chris sighed. “I don’t know. Do you think she could have followed us?”

“She could. I hope.”

“Roof access then?”

Ben nodded. “Sure.” He walked off, looking for a staircase.

On the roof of the hospital, he looked around. Nothing. Fuck. Wait, cell phones are a thing. If hers is still intact. He texted her the name of the hospital. After a minute, he got a reply. Oh, cool, she’s still alive, and so is her phone.

Olivia landed hard on a clear strip of roof. She stumbled, then turned to Ben.

“Whoa, you OK?” he asked. Never seen her land that sloppy.

“Um, Amanda, is she… you know…” began Olivia, her words slurred.

“We’ll find out after surgery.” Olivia’s eyes widened. He blocked her from the door. “Nothin’ we can do, it’s up to God an’ the docs now.”

“But-”

“Nothin’ we can do.”

Olivia collapsed next to an AC. She yawned wide. Is that a chipped tooth of hers I see? Ben squinted. Yep. “Sorry,” mumbled Olivia. “Tired.”

Ben looked around for cameras. I think this place is safe enough. “You fine with here?” he asked.

No reply. She sat with her head hanging, back to the AC. Is she… she is asleep. Good conversation. Now what? Maybe we can get her into a hospital room. Dunno. After a second check of the roof, he returned to the inside.

Ben walked back into the waiting room. Roach and Quarrel had rejoined the rest of them. Why do they care? “Olivia’s passed out on the roof.”

“You just left her there?” asked Miya.

“Dunno what else to do.” Too tired to think anymore. “Oh yeah, she had a chipped tooth. You may want to check it out.”

Miya sighed and pulled herself out of her chair. “I’ll take a look at her.”

Ben collapsed in her newly vacated chair.

“Would it be possible for her to have an unoccupied room?” Chris asked Quarrel and Roach.

Quarrel looked at Roach, who shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll check,” he rasped, getting up in search of some hospital staff.

The room fell into silence once he left. We’re a woman down. Don’t know what the Watch is going to do. We sure as hell aren’t just leaving her here, so we’ve stuck here for however long it’ll take her to patch her up. If they can patch her up. Nah, don’t think like that. She’ll get through, if only so I don’t have the last laugh. Don’t know what to do now.

Ben broke the silence. “Now what?”

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Ash – Silence

What’s this about oil again? “Olivia, what is it?” asked Miya.

Olivia’s face scrunched up in concentration. “I’m trying to hear something,” she answered, her voice distant. She never tells us what she hears and smells. Something going on?

Meanwhile, the conversation had picked back up again after Amanda’s recognition of the Overlord robot. “Guys, shut up, shut up” shushed Miya.

They looked at her oddly, though everyone besides the Watch quieted down immediately. “Is something wrong?” asked Preacher.

Miya motioned to Olivia. “She hears something,” she whispered.

Preacher nodded and kept quiet.

After a silent moment, Olivia murmured, “People outside, all around.” Shit. Miya grabbed her pistol and saw Quarrel heft her bulky crossbow. Everyone turned to face the two doors to the warehouse.

“Someone, no, two people on the roof,” continued Olivia. “Smell like oil.” A couple people, Miya included, turned their attention to the ceiling. Up?

At that moment, a portion of the ceiling exploded. Two dark figures rappelled from the brand new hole, aiming rifles on the way down. It took Miya a moment to realize they were firing, the muzzle flashes the only indication that bullets were coming out of the barrels. Roach took two bullets to the head. Amanda dropped. To Miya’s left, the back wall began to peel away like tin foil.

“Shit,” yelled Ben.

Miya backed away as the figures hit the floor feet first. Fuck, what? Quarrel’s shot plinked off the chestplate of one of the figures.

Miya raised her pistol. One of the roof figures snapped towards her and raised his rifle. Miya met his eyes. Except he didn’t have human eyes. Instead, his metal face was locked in a perpetual scream.

“Robot!” Miya yelled in warning as she threw herself to the side and fired.

Olivia roared and grabbed the robot that Miya shot at and threw it to the ground right as its rifle tracked Miya. The robot took Olivia’s throw in stride, twisting its rifle around and firing a burst point blank into Olivia’s face with unerring aim. Olivia growled and staggered back, holding up a hand to ward off any more bullets.

The robot rolled to its feet and backed away, still aiming at Olivia. Miya climbed back to her feet, pistol in hand.

Before she could shoot the robot, the wall behind Olivia and the robot stopped peeling and a cone of fire burst into the warehouse. Someone had flipped the table they’d been using previously towards the wall, and people, Miya had no time to recognize them, ducked behind it as the flames washed over them. Miya threw herself to the ground again. The mass of fire above her sucked her breath out.

Miya patted down her hair. Not on fire. Move. She climbed to her feet once more, this time to the deafening sound of gunfire from all around. In front of her, Olivia and the robot had paid the flames no mind. Olivia rushed forward and rammed into the robot with her shoulder. It’s rifle took the brunt of the blow, bending down the middle. The robot staggered back a few paces before righting itself.

Miya took aim. Right as her finger touched the trigger, Olivia closed the gap between her and the robot. Damn it.

The robot dropped its useless rifle, ducked under Olivia’s follow up swipe, and rolled behind her. Before Olivia could turn, the robot pinned her tail to the ground with a dark knife it had produced from a slot in its wrist. Olivia hissed and tore her tail free as she whirled around to face the robot again. The knife, now twisted and useless, clattered away.

Miya fired at the robot. Most of her shots went wide, but two made contact. The robot ignored the two new holes in its leg, simply shifting its weight to the undamaged one. Miya’s pistol clicked as she pulled the trigger a final time.

“GO! We need to leave,” shouted Preacher as he retreated to the front door, Quarrel a ways behind him, crossbow aimed at the torn wall. How?

Miya took a split second to assess the rest of the situation. She, Olivia, and their robot had drifted about fifteen feet away from the others. Rob crouched over Amanda’s prone form; blood tricked from beneath her on the concrete floor. Roach had rolled over to his side, a hand pressed to his head. Beyond them, Ben lay unconscious near where Chris rapidly shifted between liquid and human forms as he fended off the second robot, fireballs raining down all the while.

Right as Preacher grabbed the door handle, the door itself exploded backwards, taking him with it. Oh god. Oh god he’s dead. A massive man bulled through the wreckage of the door with a laugh, toting a gun about as large as Miya. Shotty? Quarrel shot three bolts into him as she backpedaled. The man rumbled with laughter and took aim as a buzzing noise filled the air. No way out.

Miya backed away from Shotty, though his attention remained on Quarrel. Her crossbow shot five more bolts into him in quick succession with a high pitched squeak. A roar from Olivia caught Miya’s attention. Right, shouldn’t just be standing here. She reached for her pocket, where she normally kept a spare magazine. Nothing. Shit. She dropped her pistol.

Olivia collided with the robot as Miya rushed towards them. The robot went flying, but managed to tumble and roll to its feet.

Just as Olivia charged again, the robot let out a piercing scream of pain. “WAIT! No, please don’t. Please don’t. NO.” The screams dissolved into ragged sobbing. Fuckfuckfuck what the fuck is that?

Olivia hesitated for a fraction of a second, just long enough for the robot to slash at her face with another knife. Damn it. Magic’s no good against that thing. Miya noted the holes in the robot’s leg as it dodged and twisted around Olivia’s blows, leaving another cut on her upper arm. That thing is too fast. Idea.

From across the room, beneath the incessant buzzing and gunfire, Miya could hear the other robot sound like a woman begging for her life. Miya lunged for the robot engaged with Olivia, aiming a low tackle at the back of the knee of its damaged leg. The robot screamed again and leaped out of the way of Miya’s tackle. She only managed to deal a glancing blow to the leg. A jolt of pain shot through her shoulder. Olivia, however, caught the robot’s extended arm as the robot leapt and ripped it off.

Something exploded behind Miya. The robot shifted to a more defensive stance as Olivia followed through. However, when the robot tried to sidestep again, its leg seized up, and Olivia’s hand went through its chest plate. A large amount of wiring and electronics came free. The robot spasmed and collapsed in a heap, the screaming going silent. Oh thank god. Then Olivia flinched as people started shooting her. God damn it.

Miya scrambled on her hands and knees towards where the peeling had stopped at the wall. I don’t have a gun. I don’t have a knife. I can grab someone and kill them, but that’s assuming they have exposed skin. Roach pushed the remains of the table between Amanda and the shooting people, blocking Miya’s view of her and Rob.

Deep laughter caught Miya’s attention. Shotty cornered Quarrel, even as she loaded a heavy bolt. The laughter caught Olivia’s attention, who’d been caught between charging the gunmen or retreating from their gunfire. Shotty still laughed despite the bolt sticking out of his eye. Finally, he lunged and knocked the crossbow out of her hands.

Quarrel kicked Shotty in the stomach as he raised her by her throat. His massive shotgun thing lay ruined on the floor a few feet away. His shoulders shook in a chuckle. He tore one of Quarrel’s bolts out of his shoulder with his free hand, then gripped it like a knife. He raised the bolt to stab Quarrel when Olivia tore off a chunk of that arm.

He roared in pain and dropped Quarrel, then elbowed Olivia. She staggered back several feet while Quarrel snatched her crossbow up and sprinted out from behind Shotty.

Shotty screamed something incomprehensible at Olivia. She hissed and lunged at him. He sidestepped and slammed a fist into the side of her head.

A couple gunmen came in through the ruined door on the opposite side of the warehouse. They immediately shot at Olivia. What the fuck am I supposed to do?

Roach burst from behind the overturned table and sprinted towards her. A couple bullets hit his chest, Miya saw the blood blossom on his clothes, but Roach pressed on. He grabbed Miya.

“Go!” he rasped in Nahua, pushing her towards the outside. Why aren’t you speaking English? Behind him, Rob followed, carrying Amanda’s motionless form.

“Where?” she yelled back.

“What?” he yelled back. He gave an impatient grimace and pointed outside. “Follow.”

“What about the others?” she shouted.

“Escape or die,” he barked. Then he vaulted over the remains of the wall to the sound of gunfire.

Rob reached Miya, arms wrapped around Amanda. Amanda’s chest rose and fell, but her stomach was a mess of shredded fabric and blood. “Come on,” shouted Rob. They’re right.

Miya forced herself to get off the floor and follow Roach. Two gunmen, both Aztecs with dark blue tattoos of skulls on their necks, lay with necks bent at severe angles. Roach had the attention of three more men. Roach had his hands on one, but the other two backed up in different directions, shooting wildly.

Miya scooped up a dropped handgun, then fired at one of the gunmen. Her newly acquired weapon turned out to only have three bullets, but the three were enough to make the gunman dive. Miya led Rob through the scrap yard as Roach kept the attention of several other gunmen who had been drawn to the commotion. There’s the fence. Gate should be close. The building behind them rattled again.

A wayward bullet grazed Rob’s leg. He tumbled, nearly losing grasp of Amanda. Miya’s breath froze in her throat.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Rob muttered under his breath. He pushed himself back to his feet as Miya joined him, letting him lean on her to take some of their weight. They passed through the fence, until Rob collapsed. Miya managed to keep Amanda from hitting the ground too hard, but that didn’t change the fact she had two wounded people she couldn’t move on her own.

Footsteps approached. Shit. Miya jerked her head up and stood, adrenaline spiking. Roach appeared from around a pile of scrap. Miya released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“No time,” growled Roach as he took in the situation. “I’ll take her, you take him,” he said, lifting Amanda like a child.

“You awake?” Miya asked Rob.

“Yeah. Help?” he replied. She grabbed his outstretched hand and hauled him to his feet. He leaned on Miya, letting her help him limp away from the warehouse. The sounds of gunfire, roars, and thuds faded behind them as they put as much distance between them and the scrap yard as possible. Eventually Miya could only hear Rob’s ragged breathing.

“Stop,” said Roach as they reached an empty intersection. He lay Amanda down and removed his tank top. He waded it up and pressed it to Amanda’s stomach. He looked up at Miya and Rob. “How bad?” he asked, motioning to Rob.

Miya checked Rob’s leg. The bullet wound on his leg formed a short but deep gash. It bleed, but the volume of blood did not indicate a major injury. Not so bad, thank god. “Hurts like hell,” said Rob, noticing her gaze. “What’d he say?”

“Sit down,” said Miya as she released him. “Need to bandage your leg.” After a moment of standing on his own, his leg buckled.

“Whoa, that… that ain’t good,” said Rob as he sat. Thank you for stating the obvious.

“I’ll check,” said Roach. “Could hurt her more.” He motioned to Amanda.

Miya hurried over to take his place, pushing the ad-hoc bandage into Amanda’s stomach. Amanda, though unconscious, twitched a bit. Her head rolled to the side.

“Oh, this is a lot of blood,” said Miya.

“Pressure,” repeated Roach as he tore a length of Rob’s shirt off for a bandage. That’s not what I said. Can you understand me?

She spoke in Nahua, “This better?

Roach nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

Amanda started coughing. Oh shit. “Amanda, Amanda, can you hear me?” asked Miya.

Amanda’s breathing quickened. “Hurts,” gasped Amanda. She coughed again, then let out a choked scream.

“I’m going to knock you out, OK?” said Miya.

Amanda didn’t answer.

Fuck, she’s bleeding out. Fuck. Dark blood. Um… um… platelets. Those stop stuff like this. Miya freed a hand from the sticky, blood-soaked mass of cloth and grabbed Amanda’s arm. Work, work, work. She gathered as much magic as she could. Platelets stop bleeding. Platelets come from bones. Um… more platelets. Go. She laid the streams of magic over Amanda’s major bones. Please work, please work, please work.

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Ash – Fire, Fire!

Miya finished breaking down the cot and tossed it in the office they’d used as storage. Finally leaving this shithole. Actually, this didn’t even take too long. No complaints here.

“I think we’re basically ready to leave. Think Rob and Amanda will be done soon?” she asked Chris as she passed him.

“I just asked Amanda. She thinks so,” he said over his shoulder as he carried the last cot in.

Wonderful. She looked around the warehouse. Amanda had taken the time out of her busy schedule to pack up all but one of her computers. The desks she’d used were now pushed up against a wall. Ben walked out with a case of ammunition. Miya joined Olivia, who looked about ready to nod off near the office wall.

“You alright?” asked Miya. Someone looks miserable.

“What? Oh, I’m fine,” said Olivia. She covered her mouth to conceal a huge yawn.

“Really?” asked Miya, eyebrow raised as Olivia’s yawn continued.

Olivia finally closed her mouth. “I’m just a little tired. I couldn’t sleep last night, Amanda and Rob had some engine thing going all day. And there were a bunch of cars every now and then driving near by.”

“Do you think you’re going to be able to fly tonight? We’ll be leaving soon-ish.”

“Oh, um, yeah. I can.”

“You’re not going to fall asleep midair, are you?” asked Miya with a teasing smile.

“I can do it,” insisted Olivia with a small frown.

Miya nudged her. “I’m just teasing you.”

“Oh, sorry.” Olivia stifled another yawn.

Amanda barged in, pushing a few boxes on a dolly Rob had welded together from scrap earlier that day. At the same time Ben returned from the front, minus the ammo boxes.

“Hey, jackass, get this stuff out to Chris’s car,” Amanda called out to Ben.

“Sure thing, hon. We almost ready to leave?” answered Ben.

“Maybe two hours. We did something weird with the wiring, and it’s kind of hard to figure out,” said Amanda. Oh, hey, these two sniping at each other. I haven’t seen this in a while.

“Says the electric techie,” said Ben with a grin.

“Hey,” said Amanda as she relinquished her grip on the dolly for Ben to take it. “I’d like to see you do it. Besides, we’re on a time crunch. And Rob is more concerned with whatever that other project he’s been working on, I can’t do everything on my own.” Other project? What?

“Says the electric techie,” repeated Ben. Whatever, I’ll just ask Rob about it later.

“I’m going to stab you, says the electric techie,” said Amanda as she walked out of the door, flipping Ben off over her shoulder. Ben snickered and wheeled away the dolly.

“Should we help with anything?” Olivia asked aloud, looking between Ben and Amanda. What’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about? I’m just waiting for the green light so we can get out of here.

“I’m sure they’ve got it,” answered Miya. Olivia yawned wide a third time. “Are you absolutely sure you won’t fall asleep in the middle of your flight and plummet to earth?” asked Miya.

“Yes… um… maybe.”

Don’t be dumb. You sleep at least twelve hours a day. If you didn’t get any sleep last night you’re going to be especially tired. “Yes or no, Olivia. If you fall asleep at a random point in the night and fall into the desert, we will never find you.”

“No, you’re right. Sorry. But what if the cars are too full?”

“Well, let me check.”

Miya walked over to the office, the last place she’d seen Chris. Why is he still in here? He just had to carry the last cot in. There’s nothing else. Miya poked her head in as Chris adjusted the top cot of a neat, organized stack of them. The gasoline cans they’d used to keep the gas generator running had received a similar treatment next to the generator in question. She eyed the trash bag that he’d filled and placed by the door. Really? Whatever.

“Hey Chris, Olivia will need a ride for tonight, she didn’t sleep at all because of Rob and Amanda.” Chris raised an eyebrow at her in an unspoken question. Wait, that will stick the two biggest people in the smallest car. That’s just mean.

“I think my car is packed,” he said. Oh, maybe that’s what the eyebrow was for. “Rob and Amanda are sharing Amanda’s car with whatever they’ve made in the last couple days. Might want to try Ben.”

She nodded. “Sure.”

Miya returned to the warehouse proper, Chris following behind her. A metallic flash caught Miya’s eye as Olivia fiddled with one of the little gold bars. Damn it. Whatever, it brings her joy.

Ben burst in from the front door. “Guys, guys! Lookit!” he exclaimed, waving his phone in front of him. He rushed over and shoved it in Miya’s face.

“What?” asked Miya before her eyes could focus on the screen in front of her.

“I’ve been makin’ a point to be more up to date on the news. An’ guess what? Guess what? Nah, jus’ read it,” said Ben, a crazy smile on his face.

Ok, something about John Doe. Huh, almost forgot about him. News fluff about urban legends. And… whoa. He was an alien?

Miya looked back up at Ben. “Ya read it?” he asked. She nodded. He passed the phone around to Chris and Olivia, who had gathered around.

“Why are you so happy about this?” Miya asked Ben. “I’d kind of wanted to forget about him.”

“I met a fuckin’ alien! Kinda. But still, tha’s fuckin’ cool.”

“It’s not as though he was a previously undiscovered alien species,” said Chris as he read the article, Olivia looking over his shoulder with a frown. “They’re pretty sure he was a Gulmer.”

Ben’s smile slipped. “Bullshit. We saw him first hand. He looked all human an’ weird an’ shit.” I’m with Ben on this one, he looked fully human to me.

“How far did you actually read into the article?” asked Chris. “Or did you just read the title?”

“Uh, title an’ first paragraph or so before. Then I got all excited an’ told you lot.”

“Yeah. They think he, or she, they’re still not entirely sure on Gulmer gender, was a survivor from one of their slaving raids back in the day.”

“Thought the army mopped them up… hell, before we were born,” said Ben.

“Doesn’t mean one of them couldn’t have slipped by,” said Chris as he passed the phone back to Ben. “Besides, I guess that explains John Doe’s bizarre power.”

“Um,” began Olivia. She closed her mouth when Chris turned around.

“Question?” he asked.

“How does that, um, how does that explain his power?” she asked.

“Aliens have powers and whatnot too, but they work differently,” said Chris.

“Really?” asked Miya. I always assumed they worked like normal, well, human powers.

“From what we know, and from what we’ve gotten from Siberians, yes,” responded Chris. He’s positively chatty today.

“Where do powers come from, then?” asked Olivia.

“I dunno,” said Miya. Ben just shrugged.

“I am not the person to ask,” said Chris. “Biological quirks? Will of God? No idea.”

“Lemme check. The internet knows all,” said Ben. Miya sat back, waiting on him. I actually kind of want to know the answer to this.

After a while, Ben said, “No fuckin’ clue. Oh, or ya can believe this one sane gentleman who says that we’re all sinners who have been cursed by Beelzebub or whoever and will burn in the pits of hell for all eternity.” That’s nice.

Chris just shook his head. “Of course. Anything else to pack in the cars?” he asked.

“Nope,” answered Ben. “Jus’ waitin’ on Rob an’ Amanda.”

“Um,” began Olivia. “Why is it so important we leave now? No one knows we’re here.”

What? “They do know we’re here,” said Miya. “Remember when you flew around, and the police chased you?”

“No, here in this building. Sorry.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Ya know it wouldn’t be all that hard to find us here, yeah?” said Ben. “A couple of homeless people have already probably tried to squat before noticin’ us here since we moved in.”

“Um,” began Olivia. “Maybe?” she said.

What? “What do you mean, Olivia?” asked Chris.

“I might have smelled other people when we first came here. They were faint, though.”

“Yeah,” agreed Ben. “An’ I’d be willin’ to bet all of ‘em in the area have noticed that there’s people here now.

“Then why didn’t they steal all of that stuff I had stockpiled? It was just sitting there for months,” asked Miya. Well, not I. It was the rest of the gang too. But that’s not important.

“Remember how we needed Rob to pick the lock to actually get in? A random homeless person very probably doesn’t have those capabilities,” said Chris. “But anyways, to answer your question, Olivia, we should probably get to a city where people with guns don’t know we’re there. Whoever that gang was, they obviously don’t like us, and I wouldn’t put it past them to try to get revenge for killing one of their own.”

“Who were they, anyways?” asked Ben.

“They’re called the Tzontlis,” answered Miya. “I’m not sure where they came from. They weren’t around last time I was here.”

“Not sure? Ya knew who some of them were,” said Ben.

“The people I knew were from the Underground. They don’t have manpower.”

“Wait, the what?” asked Ben.

“Underground Mage Collective.” She observed everyone’s blank looks. Seriously? None of you know who they are?

“Oh, wait. Those sickos in Salem?” asked Ben.

“No, there’s three different ones that I know of. The first one was started in Oregon, hence the name. They’re a bunch of hippies. The ones on the east coast are the ones you’re talking about, in Massachusetts. That’s where the Salem you’re talking about is, right?”

Ben shrugged. “Think so. I dunno though.”

“Yeah, they’re why the Salem witch trials were so bloody. And the only other main one I know of is here in Phoenix. I think that’s more a result of all the Aztecs living around here. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s more of a society or a club than a street gang.”

“So some hobbyists are now warlords?” asked Chris.

“Apparently. They were always kind of, you know, underground. Not just a clever name, you see. I know their leader, Samedi, refused to get involved in anything that wasn’t about magic.”

“What changed?”

“Fuck if I know.”

Someone pounded on the door and everyone froze. Shit. Who? Miya reflexively reached for a gun. Shit, everything is packed in the cars. Shit. Silence reigned.

“Ben, Olivia, check the back,” said Chris, his voice hushed. Ben lead the way as the two rushed to the scrapyard.

Miya hung back as Chris approached the front door. I won’t be able to do shit. She whirled around as she remembered the office. Check there. She grabbed Chris before he could open the door and jerked her head towards the office once she had his attention. You OK with doing this on your own? I won’t be much help. He took a second to consider, then nodded.

Miya rushed towards the office. Chris gave her a moment to get halfway, then opened the door. Come on, come on. She wrenched open the door and rushed in. Fuck, Chris organized it all. I have no clue where anything is. She scrambled, ducking around a stack of cots. Didn’t turn on the light. Damn.

Nothing. Did we even leave a gun here? She tore the top off a box. Blankets. Another box. Cans of food. She stood up straight and looked around. It’s organized. This is domestic stuff. She ran to the other end of the office, only the light from the opened door behind her illuminating the way. A metallic glint caught her eye. There.

She grabbed a pistol and a magazine from the small locker. Heavy, got rounds in it. Good. Haven’t heard any shouting or gunfire, maybe I won’t need this. After hurrying back to the warehouse, she leaned in the doorway and took in the scene.

Chris stood by the front door, the door fully opened. Why are you so trusting? Or why am I so paranoid? They’re obviously not fighting. Who’s he talking to?

The tall man in question wore a black, full brim hat. He spoke intently to Chris, who nodded. Miya recognized him. Uh oh.

Fuck, that’s Preacher. Where are Roach and Quarrel? A quick glance past Chris and Preacher into the darkened outdoors didn’t show either person. I don’t see Quarrel anywhere, she’s probably covering Preacher. Roach? I’ll find out in a moment.

“Preacher!” she called out, advancing. “Chris, out of the way.”

Chris sidestepped, shooting Miya a questioning glance. Oh thank god he listened. Preacher, meanwhile, noticed the gun in Miya’s hands. She kept it pointed towards the floor, at the same time kept her feet apart in a firing stance as she came to a stop. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“Miya?” asked Chris.

“He has vocal mental control. He’s part of the Watch here.” To Preacher she asked, “Did you mess with him?” Chris gave a small frown, and reached for the knife he had in his belt. Maybe Chris is clear. Not sure though.

“No. And who are you?” asked Preacher with his arms folded. If at any point he sounds convincing, shoot. Chris backed up another step. At least he still trusts me.

“A local,” she replied.

“You are the ones that tangled with the Tzontlis yesterday, yes? Your friend has just informed me.”

“So what if we did?”

“Well, we at the Watch merely wished to offer our help in that regard. Surely you wouldn’t…” Bad. No more words.

He stopped as Miya raised her pistol and put her finger on the trigger. “Shut up,” she spat. “Open your mouth and die, Preacher. I ask you a yes or no question, and you nod or shake your head. Understand?”

Preacher’s face hardened when she said his name again. I know your power, fucker. He nodded.

“Quarrel and Roach here?” she asked.

He nodded. She glanced around past him. I still don’t see them. This is bad.

“Quarrel’s about to put a bolt in my eye, isn’t she?”

Another nod. How? I’m in the building. Is she going to shoot past Preacher? Crossbows aren’t strong enough to go through walls, are they? “You’re here to get us to help you fight the Tzontlis aren’t you?” she asked. Please don’t kill me.

Preacher nodded. “Miya, what?” said Chris.

“Two others in the Watch. Quarrel has a crossbow, Roach can’t be killed.”

“Put the gun down. They didn’t come in trying to kill us.”

“That’s Preacher talking,” said Miya. Fuck head games. Just give me something to shoot.

“No, that’s me. He said something about Overlord, I thought you’d be interested.” Miya faltered as she lowered her pistol a couple inches. The fuck?

“All we ask is that you listen,” said Preacher. “I cannot affect all of you at once.”

“I believe you because?” asked Miya. So much for that no talking thing. But if Quarrel wants to kill me there’s nothing stopping her.

“Because I came here in good faith for a simple talk, not combat.”

“Good faith? Quarrel’s about to shoot me.”

“Good faith is not stupidity. We did not know if you would react as you are reacting now.”

At that time, the back door squeaked open. Two footsteps stopped, presumably at the sight of Miya, Chris, and Preacher. “Nothin’ out back. You lot gettin’ along?” asked Ben.

Chris gave Miya a look. “I’m not in the business of needless murder. Are you?” Fine. Miya lowered her pistol. Chris spoke to Preacher next. “We’re showing you faith, now you show us. Where are those other two?” Oh, hey, Chris isn’t a complete idiot.

Preacher smiled slightly. “Very well.” Preacher turned and waved. “They will be here momentarily.

Chris nodded. “Ben, can you grab the others?”

“Yessah,” replied Ben as he left again. Miya kept an eye on Preacher.

A few minutes later, after everyone convened in the warehouse and were introduced to one another, Preacher spoke again, “Thank you for meeting with us.”

“What’s this about?” asked Rob with a frown. Hey, Amanda dragged him out of that scrapyard.

“We need help, pure and simple,” said Quarrel, her voice muffled slightly by the thin brown scarf over her face.

Miya glanced at Quarrel’s goggles. Can’t tell if she’s lying or not. I actually can’t tell shit about her, she’s always been the spooky one. Quarrel’s head twitched in Miya’s direction when she noticed her gaze and ran a thumb along one of the heavier crossbow bolts she had strapped to the front of her dusty brown coat.

“Tzontlis,” croaked the large Aztec man next to her. He scratched at the enormous white gash on his throat. In fact, his whole skin was a web of scars. He caught Miya’s gaze and frowned. Oh, he remembers me. My golem gave you a couple of those scars, didn’t it?

“Yes. The government is trying to keep the news covered, but the Tzontlis have control of a good third of the city and show no signs of slowing. The MHU is on the defensive,” said Preacher.

“We’ve been doing what we can, but we’re always outgunned,” added Quarrel. “There’s always so many of them. And Samedi can move people to wherever he wants nearly instantaneously.” Bullshit.

“How?” asked Miya. “Magic doesn’t work well on living things, especially thinking ones.” That’s why I need physical contact to do anything to someone.

“We don’t know. We don’t know anyone who might know, either. That’s one of the many things that’s caught us off guard,” said Preacher.

“Why do we care? You caught us literally right before we were about to leave,” said Rob. Something, something, Overlord. That’s all I know.

“Hear him out,” said Chris.

“The Underground working with them at all is also surprising. The gang itself appeared sometime in early December, then in February they expanded rapidly. We’re not sure how, but apart from the Underground, the MHU captured someone who they claim was working with the Mexican government working with the Tzontlis.” Cuauhtémoc?

“Found something,” said Roach, his voice rattling.

“Yes. We found something in one of our raids. It was a gravitational bomb.”

“A what?” asked Amanda.

“A graviation-” Preacher began to repeat.

“Yeah, heard that. What does that mean?”

“Gravity is distorted,” said Quarrel.

“One step. Hundred feet in the air,” rasped Roach.

“It was less of a bomb and more of a reality warping generator, but the officers who arrived first called it a bomb, so that’s what everyone’s been calling it since,” said Preacher. “The point is that Overlord is involved. No one else could make this.” I thought Overlord worked with robots.

“Wait, wait, wha’ powers they got?” asked Ben.

“Besides the Underground, they have three powers worth talking about: Shotty and Buzz are two hitmen and Vaca is a smuggler. So far as we’re aware, they don’t have a techie. Especially not one that can warp gravity on such a large scale, that’s the only device we’ve seen.”

“Does Shotty use a shotgun?” asked Ben with a grin.

“Yes he does. A massive, homemade thing that would break most peoples’ arm if they tried to shoot it.”

“And who’s in charge?” asked Chris.

“Brother and sister, Meztli and Xipil. I believe Don was their uncle.” Huh, didn’t know he had a family.

Olivia tapped Miya on the shoulder. “Yeah?” whispered Miya.

“I smell something,” Olivia whispered back. Um, OK?

“What?”

“Oil, kind of. I don’t recognize it. It’s pretty strong.”

“Don’t you smell stuff all the time?”

“Yeah, but I just wanted to know if you knew what it was.” Oil? I guess it’s just oil.

“No, no clue.”

“OK, sorry.” Miya returned her attention to the conversation.

“-also indicated that Overlord is present in the city,” finished Preacher. Whoa, whoa, whoa. What?

“Overlord is here?” asked Miya. I’m absolutely going to kill that man someday.

“We don’t know. He certainly has an interest in what goes on here,” said Preacher.

“They have robots. We’ve fought them before,” said Quarrel.

“The only effective combat robot I’ve heard of is…” said Amanda, trailing off. Is what? Just say it.

“What’d they look like?” asked Rob. Or don’t say it. Fuck you two.

“Like a smaller person. They have a screaming faceplate, but are completely silent. We couldn’t tell it was a robot until Quarrel shot it.”

“Didn’t bleed,” rasped Roach. “Was strong, too.”

“And it didn’t bleed. My power didn’t affect it either. I’ve never encountered a person who could,” said Preacher.

“Was fast,” added Roach.

Rob and Amanda exchanged troubled glances. “You’re a techie, right?” Rob asked Quarrel. She nodded. “Your thoughts?”

“I wanted to take it apart, I know that much.” Oh come on. Does everyone know what they’re talking about but me? “I don’t know anything about robotics, but that was a piece of work. We honestly thought it was someone with a brick power until Roach got right up next to it. I did get a picture of it, though.” She handed a photo to Rob.

Rob’s eyes widened. Amanda paled. “That’s an Overlord drone.”

Olivia’s head swiveled towards the front door in the meantime. “Oil,” she murmured.

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