Ash – Gearbox

A nurse rushed by Rob as he leaned against the wall of the corridor. He gripped his knife, keeping it out of sight behind his forearm. He kept an eye on her until she rounded a corner. No threat.

“Shit. Where are the others?” asked Miya. She paced in front of Amanda’s door.

Rob simply folded his arms, keeping the knife covered. I’ll try to not be a dipshit and cut myself by accident.

“I don’t know,” said Quarrel. “I think Roach is getting in contact with the hospital staff.”

Rob glanced at the locked door of Amanda’s room. Don’t know for sure if they’re here for her. Might be here for the rest of us, maybe just for recon, whatever. But I don’t care what they’re doing, they need killing.

An alarm sounded. He recognized the blaring sounds and red floodlights. Most public places had that kind of alarm: Attack is not contained, highly dangerous, seek safety. Man, they’ve got some serious hitmen. Or spies, whatever.

Feet pounded down the hall. Miya and Quarrel turned towards the sound. Rob continued leaning against the wall, looking in the other direction. No backstabs. Chris and Ben barreled down the hallway, skidding to a stop right before reaching Miya and Quarrel.

“What happened?” asked Miya.

“Olivia butchered two of the three hitmen. A couple security guards got to the last one before we could ask her anything. We have maybe three minutes until the cops get enough people here to lock down,” explained Chris in a rush. And we’re probably wanted for breaking Olivia out. Speaking of which, where is she?

“How did they find us here?” asked Quarrel.

“The docs an’ whoever else were all hush hush, but ya can’t cover up a frantic new patient like that. Janitors, service boys, maintenance people, hell, the nurses. They talk,” explained Ben in a rush. Rob cocked an eyebrow at Ben’s hand. Namely, that he had it stuffed in his pocket.

Everyone’s getting injured. But people aren’t simple like cars or perpetual motion machines. I like fixing things but I can’t do shit for a hand or stomach. What could I do?

Rob glanced at Ben’s hand again. Mechanical fingers, maybe? How would that work? He glanced at his own hand, flexing the two middle fingers Ben’s hand was missing. He’s got two small stumps there, the fingers aren’t completely gone. There’s some movement. Hell, my finger curling just looks like the little muscles are pulling the bones back. His head buzzed.

–Imitate the old fingers. Model it off of your own, or anyone else’s. Stump moves back in a curl, moves some trigger. That trigger, based on how far it’s moved, can curl the other two segments of the fake finger. Treat the joints as gears. The muscles or tendons can be treated as chains or ropes.–

Rob curled his fingers again.

–That solution is a bit too simplistic for full recovery. It won’t restore the full dexterity you’re observing right now. However, with what you’re trying to fix, there is no other method of providing energy and direction.–

“We need to get out of here,” ordered Chris. “Roach can only delay them for so long. Olivia is already gone, we told her to run before the cops came.”

Rob noticed the muscles of Chris’s face extend and contract as he talked. They pulled his jaw up and down, the gears below his ears on either side keeping it attached to the rest of his skull.

“Won’t they arrest Amanda once she’s fit for trial, though?” asked Miya.

“We can’t do anything about it,” said Chris. “Unless we can wheel her out of here right now and patch her up ourselves.” Rob tightened his grip on his knife. Nothing stopping this gang from just trying again, and I wouldn’t trust the same cops who have lost half the damn city to keep Amanda safe.

Ben nudged him. “Hey, come on. Can do more from the outside,” Ben said under his breath. Rob glanced at him. Really? Ben noticed. “Come on, murder time. Can’t do that in a cell.” Rob nodded with a grimace. Fair enough. I may not like it, but fair enough.

“Alright,” said Quarrel to the group at large. “My car is this way.”

She led the way, jogging to the stairwell on the far side of the hallway. Her knees acted as two larger gears. Her calf muscles contracted, pulling her leg back. Different muscles, pulling different gears.

Rob followed once Ben tugged on his arm.

***

“Gotta strike back somehow,” said Ben, wedged between Rob and the car door in the back seat. The engine of Quarrel’s car purred as she drove them through the dark, abandoned streets. She knows cars, I’ll give her that.

“We’ll have no way of knowing what we’ll be walking into,” said Chris from the shotgun seat.

“He’s right,” said Quarrel. “That’s just suicide otherwise.”

“Well, the fuck are we gonna do now, then?” asked Ben.

“Regroup, then strike at the head,” answered Chris.

“OK, how?”

“That’s what we need to find out.” Talk, talk, talk.

Quarrel pulled into the driveway of a small whitewashed house. “Alright,” she said. “I think I have enough room for you guys to stay. Roach might stop by, but he has his own apartment.” They’d judged going back to the hotel too big a risk, in case the police were looking for them.

They climbed out of her car. “The police won’t bother you or Roach?” asked Miya.

“No. We have an agreement with them. We can technically count as law enforcement, so that’s why they didn’t investigate you guys at the hospital earlier. So far as they were concerned, it was our investigation. But if your friend killed those hitmen, they’re going to get involved in that.” Ain’t no rest for the wicked.

The still air whooshed, and Olivia landed behind Rob. She can use her phone for something besides jaguar pictures now. As a group they hurried inside once Quarrel unlocked the front door. Thank god for her it’s about one in the morning. We’re suspicious as hell.

Quarrel sighed. “OK, crash wherever,” she said, motioning to the living room. “Just stay out of my room and my workshop downstairs. You’ll probably get shot with a crossbow if you go into the workshop, just as a warning. I’m going to grab some blankets and pillows for you.” I like her philosophy on that.

“We’re just gonna crash now?” asked Ben.

“We’ll plan that out tomorrow. Thank you for the place to stay,” said Chris.

“No problem. Me and Roach have a score to settle too, don’t worry.” Quarrel walked off, presumably to find the blankets.

Rob sat back as everyone else drifted off, the conversation ended.

Ben nudged him with his elbow. “Sleep?”

Rob shook his head. Been sleeping for too long already.

“Don’ do anythin’ dumb, OK?” Rob shrugged.

I got work to do. He jumped off the chair once everyone had left and went out to the backyard. Like most homes in Arizona, the backyard had lots of rocks and not much else. After a moment, he grabbed one.

***

Rob scraped the single edge of his knife along the stone. The long, curved blade more resembled a miniature machete than a knife. The blade was about ten inches long, not including the well-worn, leather wrapped handle. He didn’t bother with the tip, this knife was meant for wide slashes, not small, important holes. His fingers ran over the intricate Celtic knots he’d worked into the flat of the blade with another scrape of his impromptu whetstone. Got to make this sharp as possible.

–Sharpest things you’ve ever seen are Aztec obsidian knives. You can make steel that sharp too, with enough carbon, folding it correctly, and so on. You’ve done that already with this knife, if the color of the steel and resistance to the whetstone are any indication. But that makes the metal too brittle. It’ll shatter the instant you use it wrong. But if you work that kind of steel into only the very edge, and leave the rest of the knife pliable, the knife will be sharp and usable.–

–If you had enough time and a good source of heat, you could induce small purposeful fractures in the edge that won’t affect its utility, rather than let random ones form from wear and tear. But you don’t, so that’s a project for later.–

He threw the flat rock back to the ground. Now for the test. I’d rather not accidentally cut my thumb off, so hair it is.

Rob plucked a hair from his head. He held it about an inch above the knife edge and released it. The hair floated down and split in half the instant it touched the knife’s edge. Good enough. He returned the knife to its sheath, and placed it next to the two others he’d given the same treatment. Never leave home without some.

He stood, stretching kinks from crouching for an hour and a half of his neck. He glanced back at the house.

They’re going to stand around and talk forever tomorrow. Well, maybe not Ben, but he’s taken enough shit here. He strapped the smallest knife to his boot, covered up by his cargo pants. He placed the curved knife at the small of his back, and the last knife in the large pocket on his thigh.

Alright, good to go. He hopped the fence to avoid going through the house and possibly waking the others. Wait. He paused at the street and checked his wallet. He rifled through the few bills within. Think that’s enough for a bus fare. We’ll see.

***

Rob walked down the streets of the industrial district, hands in his pockets and head down. He checked a nearby street sign. Maybe a block left until the scrapyard. Damn well better be gangbangers still there, otherwise this is going to be infinitely more annoying.

He skirted a large pile of trash on the curb, noticing how close that put him to the dark alley to his left too late. A metallic click accompanied the tap of a gun barrel on the back of his head. He froze.

“Wallet,” demanded a rough voice from behind him. Not entirely unexpected.

Rob drew his hands out of his pockets with exaggerated care, holding his nearly empty wallet in one. He extended his hands to either side, taking care to let them tremble convincingly. He released his grip on his wallet before the mugger could grab it. The guy cursed as the wallet hit the ground. He heard the mugger move to grab the wallet. Someone isn’t very good at this, could have told me to pick it up myself.

Right as he heard the man bend down to grab the wallet, Rob made his move. He twisted to the side as his hand shot down to the knife at his hip. The man, maybe the same age as Rob, still partially crouched over Rob’s wallet reflexively fired. The shot went nowhere near Rob. Yep, dipshit.

Rob pulled his knife out, handle towards his thumb, and stabbed. The man finally burst into action.

–Cords of his left shoulder and arm tensing. He’ll put his arm up, it’ll probably hit your wrist. Right arm is shifting to point the gun at you.–

Rob corrected his swing, bringing it in by an inch. The knife hacked through the man’s forearm and cut everything, bone included.

The man screamed and dropped his gun as he fell to his knees. Enough of that screaming. Rob’s next stab caught the man in the eye. The mugger stopped screaming. Rob crouched and grabbed his fallen wallet. Shoving that back into his pocket and returning his knife to its sheath, he checked the neck of the dead man. There it is. He tapped the dark blue skull tattoo on the man. Guess they’ve expanded to this area.

Rob hurried away, leaving the body and the gun. Got no ammo and no way to carry it discreetly. He only resumed walking pace once close to the scrapyard. A couple unfamiliar cars were parked out front. Home sweet home.

Rather than barging in through the front door, Rob skirted around the yard itself. The barbed wire topping the fence and the lack of hole in the chain links gave him pause for thought.

–There, that slight discoloration in the wire. That means that a small tug, not much force, could break the wire. You see two other points like that.–

Easy day. Rob scaled the fence and loosened the barbed wire, enough for him to jump to the other side without tearing a hole in his skin. He headed not towards the building, but his ad hoc forge he’d set up to the side. Wonder if they touched anything. Not much to sell on the black market, it was all prototypes that needed testing. Maybe the wirepatch killed a couple if they were dumb enough to fuck with it.

He passed a couple scrap heaps before finding what he was looking for. Motherfuckers. Half of his makeshift wall had been knocked down. The heating apparatus was in shambles, different pieces strewn all around in the ground and propane tanks completely missing. The gears of the clock he hadn’t had time to pack were buried under dirt. Rob took a moment to control his breathing. There’s a special circle in hell for these people.

Something on the ground a few feet from the detritus caught his attention. They didn’t find the wirepatch. He picked up the dark grey canister, maybe one and a half times the size of a normal grenade, from under an old car door. Pin’s still in place and everything.

With nothing left at the remains of his forge, Rob continued to the main warehouse. Right before the warehouse sat the car. The car he and Amanda had turned into a futuristic hovercraft. Fuck yeah, still here? Oh yeah, I never put in a couple parts. He examined the car exterior. A scorch mark in the shape of a hand marred the driver’s door. Rob smiled. Amanda’s security still works fine. Guess I gotta finish the job.

He peered in through a hole in the crude welding job they’d put up on the ruined wall. He counted about four sleeping figures from his limited view. What are they still here for? Trap? Why? They think they’ve got us on the run. The blinking light of a familiar laptop caught his eye.

Oh, Amanda’s stuff is still all here. Techie gear could be incredibly valuable, but unless the techie wanted someone to have it, doing anything with it had an enormous chance of backfiring. They want to sell her shit, but don’t want to move it in case that fucks with it. His knuckles around the wirepatch whitened.

Fuck them, let’s do this. This door lock doesn’t work, Olivia accidentally broke it. He pulled the pin.

–Now, if you didn’t make an error in the design or creation, that pin sparked a small fuse. That fuse should hit the core. That core, composed of powdered aluminum you treated to increase combustibility, should explode, breaking the canister open. Now with the canister open, the spools of wire wrapped around the horizontal axis should extend fully.–

–If you correctly directed the energy of the core’s explosion, the wirepatch will act as a sort of bouncing betty. The axis will spin rapidly, swinging the wire and traveling in an unpredictable pattern. Now, the real question is whether all that wire held the tiny serrations you worked in a couple days ago. Ideally the wire, at the speed it should be moving, will tear apart any exposed flesh or clothing. You’d need to do some tests to see how different armors hold up to it.–

The pin came free of the cap. Rob tossed it in the warehouse. A small pop, then the screaming started.  Something, or more likely someone, collided with the wall on the other side of Rob, hiding near the door.

A man came stumbling out, bleeding profusely from his face, arms, and legs. He shot a couple fireballs into the air at imaginary enemies. Rob tackled him and drove his knife into the man’s lower ribcage. He hacked upwards, towards more important organs like the heart and lungs. The two of them hit the ground, the fire man unmoving and Rob very much alive.

Rob pulled the knife out of the fire man and stood, just in time to see a massive man tear a couple thin wires out of his face as he marched out of the doorway. His clothing looked torn to shreds, but Rob couldn’t see a drop of blood. Shotty.

Shotty took in the sight of Rob standing over the corpse with his knife. He laughed. The gears and pistons under his skin shifted as he began his lunge. I’d rather not get hit.

–He’s putting a lot of weight his left foot. Tension forming in the arm cords. Forearm tensing as well, making the hand form a fist. Punch, very fast, will aimed for the center of your chest, an inch below your throat. It’ll won’t be perfectly straight, the path will be more of a swing to your right.–

Rob turned to the side and let the punch glide past him. He glanced at the arm, the thick collection of more gears and pistons and cords. How do I make that stop?

–That cord towards the center looks important. Connected to several gears in the middle of the arm. Cut that and the arm won’t be nearly as strong.–

Rob stabbed the knife into Shotty’s tricep. The man’s arm put up far more resistance than the mugger’s arm had. Rather than simply slicing through everything, the knife got stuck deep in the large muscle. Shotty recoiled, ripping the knife out of Rob’s grasp.

–Arm and chest muscles tensing. Wrong kind of tension in his forearm for a punch. Looks like he’s going to swing his elbow at your head, you don’t think a punch at this range would make sense.–

Rob ducked and reached for the slashing knife on his back.

–Another punch. Injured arm this time. Aim for your center of mass again. —

Rob noted the trajectory of the punch and twisted, dodging it by inches. Too close, can’t slash. He backpedaled another step.

–Punch, you recognize it as a haymaker. Right side of your head.–

Rob ducked.

–Punch, uppercut, left side of your jaw.–

Rob leaned back.

–Punch, haymaker, right side of your throat.–

Rob backed up another step, slashing his knife at the top of Shotty’s forearm. The man roared in pain, his hand limp at his side. Rob smiled.

–Leg muscles tensing. Looks like a charge. Arm muscles tensing as well. Looks like a bear hug. You’ll have about three feet under that arm. He’s expecting you to go to his bad arm.–

Rob tucked and rolled, coming up behind Shotty.

–That muscle on his shoulder lets him pull his arm back. From what you’ve seen, your knife can cut through fairly well. Tensile strength of this man is much higher than that of others, however. You’ll need more tests for a number.–

Rob slashed as Shotty turned, leaving another deep cut on the man’s shoulder.

–Leg muscles again. Kick, towards your hips.–

Rob jumped to the side.

–Upper body tensing. He’s going to swing his arm at you. The muscles aren’t completely cut, they can still put force behind the swing.–

Shotty managed to swing his arm with a growl. Rob rolled out of the way again.

–Back of that gear, middle of the leg. Lots of tension there. Cut.–

Rob lunged and delivered a slash to the back of Shotty’s knee. The giant tumbled. There it is.

Rob circled a few steps around the fallen man as he struggled to get up.

–Neck cords tensed at the sound of your footsteps. Tracking you.–

Rob kicked loose dirt into the man’s eyes. Shotty recoiled, long enough for Rob to crouch down, grab the last knife in his boot, and stab it down into the base of Shotty’s skull.

Rob spoke, something he’d been meaning to say for a long time, “Now I’m angry.”

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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 – A Car Battery

Miya and Ben had spent the past several hours staking out Don’s shop and planning accordingly. So far as she remembered, the little free standing adobe building didn’t have a basement. However, other than the glass door out front, someone on the street had no way of seeing inside. Good. Don’t have to drag Don someplace else.

The area wasn’t quite a shantytown, but close enough that Miya would have been more surprised if Don didn’t have some sort of security, magical or otherwise. Normal security would be overridden once he’s in the shop. Magic is a bit trickier. Using magic on inanimate objects in there might backfire, horribly. Even an anti-theft type magic stream he’d use could react with something I’d try to do. Then again, the shop sold magical oddities and paraphernalia, enough to trigger any overzealous security system. We’ll see. If I tamper with it, Don would know the instant he shows up.

Miya fidgeted, tapping the baton she’d borrowed from Amanda against her knee. She hadn’t exactly told Amanda she’d borrowed it, but she figured Amanda and Rob were too busy to be bothered with such a trivial things as that. They’d picked up a couple other important items as they waited for daybreak.

The baton was actually the same one Delta had made for the MHU, Miya had found the little MHU stamp on the handle while searching for a way to turn it on during the car ride. It also didn’t explode in her hands when she did finally manage to find the on switch. It’s a nice to have. A knife would work just as well, but the baton is less messy.

Miya repeated the plan in her head. Knock him out, drag him inside, make sure no one accidentally comes in, interrogate, then probably kill. If anything goes wrong, just kill him and run.

They waited. Eventually, the old beat up car Don drove pulled up to the back of the shop. Don stepped out and Miya’s fists clenched. Motherfucker. Don unlocked the back door to the shop and entered. Miya waited a few minutes. Don occasionally took special orders from clients for various items. She’d only ever seen those people arrive right at opening. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the store right now.

Miya took a deep breath from behind the old, degraded fence of the backlot behind Don’s shop. She waved to Skulker, sitting on an adjacent rooftop and able to watch the front door as well as the back. He waved back. Cool, no one. “Let’s do this,” she murmured to herself.

Knocking out Don turned out to be easier than expected. After checking that the abandoned backlot bordering the back of the shop remained abandoned, Miya chucked a rock through the windshield of Don’s car. The car alarm blared. Soon after it shattered, he came out, murder in his eyes and shotgun in his hands. Miya, who’d hid out of sight, heard a low snap beneath the car alarm as Skulker fired.

Don choked as all of his muscles convulsed, including the ones that let him breathe. He hit the dirt. Good. The convulsions stopped, and Don coughed and started to get up. Not good. Another snap, and Don went down again. That was easy. Then again, you don’t go to work expecting something like this. He was never really involved in all the Aztec politics going on around here.

Miya rushed forward to where Don lay and kicked the shotgun well out of his reach. Skulker teleported to join her, aiming his rifle at Don’s prone form.

“Tha’ shoulda only taken one shot. Got an iron slug if it’s a trap.”

Miya nodded. She turned Don over, face up. No reaction on Don’s part. She reached for her magic and probed at him. What’s this? He’s got a couple streams of magic going through him. What do they do? Oh shit, it’s reacting! She pulled back, avoiding a magical trap that would have knocked her out for a minute. “I think he’s out now.” So far as I can tell. She rifled through his pockets, emptying them. Not much in this wallet. Keys, I’ll hold onto those. Nothing else.

“Cool,” said Skulker, slinging his rifle over his back and grabbing one of Don’s legs to haul him inside.

Miya stared down at Don. You fucker. I’ve still got those wires in me because of you.

“You OK? Ya look kinda sick,” said Skulker with a sidelong glance in her direction, breaking her train of thought.

Miya grimaced. Bad memories. “I’m fine.”

She grabbed Don’s other leg and helped Skulker drag him inside. They pulled him to the back of the shop proper, the dirty shelves full of some of the most random object obscuring the view of the streets. A couple people walked past outside, but no one bothered to check out the shop. Easy enough. Need to make sure no one walks in now.

Her phone buzzed as she broke off to find a chair. She checked the number. This won’t take long, Chris can wait. She slipped the phone back into her pocket.

“Found one,” said Skulker, pulling up a large wooden chair from a corner.

“OK. I got the door,” replied Miya.

She flipped the Open sign to the Closed side, then pulled down the blinds of the front door. Her phone buzzed again. Damn it, what? Chris had sent her a text. “Where are you?

“Somethin’ wrong?” asked Skulker as she returned. Don slumped in the chair where Skulker had hauled him.

“Nomad is asking where we are.” There’s a reason it’s just us two. The rest of them would probably pussy out.

Skulker shrugged. “Eh, we’re technically grownups. We can do whatever we want.”

Chris isn’t my fucking dad. “True. This shouldn’t take too long. Want to go grab the stuff?”

Skulker nodded and left the building to grab the bag he’d left on his roof. Miya resisted the urge to just slit Don’s throat while he lay there. He’s probably guilty, but I don’t know for sure.

“Pass me the duct tape?” she asked as he returned.

“Yep,” he said, tossing the thick roll of duct tape to her. He put a large car battery off to the side.

They wrapped several layers around Don’s chest, then strapped his feet to the legs of the chair and his hands to the armrests.

“I’m going to check the back,” said Miya.

“Bueno. I’m good here. Let ya know if he starts kickin’. Might wanna grab a cup of water if there’s anythin’ like that back there, wake him up,” he said, nudging Don with the toe of his boot.

Miya nodded as she pulled aside the ratty old curtain leading to the back room of Don’s shop. A single fluorescent light panel lit up the back. A couple flies flew off from the light before buzzing around it. Her nose wrinkled. Someone doesn’t know how to keep clean. Coffee stains marred the old, faded counters. The trashcan in the corner overflowed with papers and discarded food.

Need information. She couldn’t find a computer, but did crack open one of several filing cabinets against the wall.

With the papers of a random folder spread over a desk, she started sifting through the numbers of what appeared to be tax forms. After about thirty seconds, she stopped. What the hell am I doing? This isn’t a movie. This is a needle in a haystack situation. And it’s not as though I’m going to find his diary saying “Today I sold Miya to Overlord” or anything like that.

Miya sighed and swept the papers off the desk. Damn it, what am I even doing? I’ve got to get the information directly from him, I guess. Where are his drugs? Could threaten to overdose him. She opened a cupboard. Hello there. A safe took up the whole cabinet. This doesn’t look mobile. Maybe Rob could get it open if I manage to drag him out of that scrap yard. It’s steel, magic doesn’t take to steel all that well.

She heard a sharp whistle from Skulker. Don awake? “Hey there, Mr. Kidnapper!” exclaimed Skulker from the main shop outside.

Don groaned, “What the…”

“You awake? Feelin’ alright?”

Miya pressed against the doorframe and peered around it. Skulker leaned over, right in Don’s face. His head twitched slightly towards Miya. She circled her hand in a “continue” motion.

He gave a slight nod as Don tried to stand up from the chair. “The hell? Who the fuck are you?” he snapped at Skulker. He tried to twist his head backwards, to look to where Skulker had nodded.

Skulker grabbed Don’s dark grey hair and yanked it back towards him. “Skulker,” he replied, releasing Don’s hair.

Don took another moment to struggle against the duct tape before saying, “I’ve never heard of you. Let me go, right now.”

“Nah. You an’ me, we’re gonna have a chat.” Skulker pulled up the office chair that had sat behind the counter of the shop. On it he placed the car battery.

“What? You think hollow threats are going to make me talk? I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, but I promise you’ll regret whatever it is you’re about to do.” Playing dumb. Wait, no. He has no idea Skulker is with me.

“An’ what is ya think I’m ‘bout to do? Notice anythin’? No wires. No cables,” said Skulker in a hushed voice. “An’ you might be thinkin’ I’m jus’ gonna splash acid in yer face. Wrong.”

What the hell is he doing? Miya turned the corner. Skulker stood in front of Don, a car battery at hand. He swung it over his head, and sent it crashing down on Don’s knee. Don bit his lip, stifling a scream. Skulker stood before him, swinging the car battery. Don recovered his composure after a couple of huffs.

“You ain’t a good actor. Tha’ shoulda hurt a lot more. Hell,” said Skulker, grabbing Don’s knee. “Ya didn’t even wince when I did that. Magic shit? Wanna see how long it’ll take me to break that pointy-ass nose of yours?” Don remained stoic.

Oh, OK. He probably has a lot of personal magical protection in this place. Miya unhooked Amanda’s baton from her belt and examined the butt. There’s the dial. Miya turned on the baton, then turned a dial until a red light blinked at her. Red means danger. Good. The baton hummed in her hands. Whatever I do, don’t touch the hurty part.

Miya turned the corner. “Yes, magic shit,” she said, walking over.

Don took a couple seconds to react to the sound of her voice. He twisted around as much as the restraints allowed. Skulker made no move to stop him. Don mouthed, “What?” silently.

Miya nodded to Skulker. “Thanks. There’s a safe in the back, you might want to take a look at it.”

“No problem. I’ll be around if ya need me,” said Skulker, offering the free chair to her. He strode out of the back of the store.

“Hi, Don,” said Miya, once Skulker left.

“Miya? Where… where have you been?” said Don as Miya sat down across from him.

She tapped the baton against his knee. He flinched slightly. “Oh, out and about. You know. You seem sweaty all of a sudden.” He’s a lot more nervous with me than Skulker. And Skulker’s got that weird grinning mask thing.

“Yeah, I’m tied up. What do you expect? Come on, let me out. Why are you with that guy?”

“Why do you think? Come on, you’ve got a brain, right?”

“I don’t fucking know-”

She cut him off. “Answer the question.” Enough fucking games.

Don stared at her for a moment. “I. Don’t. Know.”

She tapped his knee with the baton again. His knee jerked. He grimaced, but didn’t break eye contact with Miya. “I. Don’t. Believe you,” she said in a near whisper.

His brown eyes hardened. He leaned back as much as he could in his chair and kept his mouth shut. New tactic.

“I wasn’t paying you any money for the last six months. No more opium for you? No more alcohol? You were in rough shape six months ago. Your cheeks aren’t nearly as hollow now. Hell, you’re probably not dangerously underweight anymore.”

“Still can’t believe the opium thing. Not heroin?” commented Skulker, walking behind Don with a can of gasoline in each hand and an empty duffel bag slung over one shoulder.

“He’s old fashioned like that,” replied Miya. That’s code for I have no fucking clue why.

“None of your business,” said Don. You freaked out every time I was late on a payment. I remember your shaking hands.

Skulker put the cans of gas down, then went into the back room with his duffel bag.

“Oh, but it is, addict,” said Miya. “I really don’t think you would have ever spoken to me if I wasn’t an easy way to your next fix. Kind of pitiful, really. The great, powerful mage couldn’t go a day without a smoke or a hit.”

“I’m sober. Quit cold turkey. Have been off that stuff for six months now,” answered Don with some pride. He froze when he realized his mistake.

“Six months? That’s exactly when I was here last. Funny.”

Miya tapped his knee again. “Ow,” he muttered. There’s the reaction I was looking for. No defense is infinite. On the other hand, damn, Amanda put a lot of power into this.

Miya leaned forward about two inches from Don’s face, able to take in every wrinkle on his face. “I was kidnapped six months ago. By Overlord. They said they knew all about my potential. I wonder how they knew that.” She said it more as a statement than a question.

Don’s eyes flickered left, then right.

“Look at me,” commanded Miya. “What do you know about all of that?”

She tapped his knee again. This time she heard a zapping noise, and Don jumped. “Fuck.”

Skulker walked out of the back room, his duffel bag his duffel bag now weighing down on his shoulder. He took a second to assess the situation, then left through the back door.

“That looked like it hurt. Want to see if that was just a fluke?” she asked, sitting back down.

Don glared. “They offered me more than you ever could.”

Skulker walked back in, carrying Don’s shotgun. “Wanna use this?” he said, offering it to Miya.

In response, she took the shotgun and leaned it against a shelf, barrel pointed down. “Maybe. Depends on how talkative he is.”

Don rolled his eyes. Miya turned down the power of the baton a little bit, then tapped his knee again. He convulsed. A burning scent filled the air as the baton incinerated his pants around his knee.

“Answer me,” she said, her voice flat and calm.

“Fuck you.”

Another knee tap.

“Fuck!” he yelled. He spat in her face. She wiped it off.

“Answer me.”

Another knee tap.

He screamed.

“Answer me.”

Another knee tap.

“I did it!” he screamed. There it is.

“Why?”

“They offered me chemical treatments,” he said, rushing the words out. She ignored her buzzing phone.

“Oh, I see. Overlord got you off your precious drugs, did he?”

Don nodded. Miya turned off the baton.

“Now, what to do with you?” she asked herself aloud.

“That wasn’t me. Whatever they did, that wasn’t me.” Miya saw red for a brief moment.

She shoved a finger in his face. “I spent a couple months strapped to a hospital bed so they could cut me up because of you. You really think I’m just going to take that lying down?”

“Whatever it is you think you’re going to do, you’ll pay for it,” he said, his voice ragged and desperate. Bark bark, little doggy.

“I know. But I’ve got something planned for you.”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” spat Don.

“Oh, you think the guys in the Underground are going to help you out of this?”

“They’ll be here any minute.” That’s cute.

“That’s nice. This won’t take long at all.” She grabbed his hand. This is going to take a bit out of me, but I’d say this is worth it. She reached for as much of her magic as she could. “I was going to have your own skull lobotomize you, but I’ve thought of something else. Fun fact. You know where blood comes from? Marrow. Bone marrow. It’s that stuff I’m permanently burning out right now in your bones. And my friend has a lot of knives.” She motioned to Skulker, who’d taken a position behind Don.

Realization dawned on Don’s face. She released his hand and leaned back. “No, no, no. You bitch,” screamed Don, thrashing against his restraints.

Skulker cut his screaming short by swinging the car battery against his head. It collided with Don’s skull, something snapped, and he stopped moving. She spat on his bloodied face.

“I’m done,” said Miya as she stood. That’s over with. Finally.

“Bueno,” said Skulker, putting the bloody car battery on the ground. “Got the gas cans outta the car. Want a hand?”

She nodded silently. They splashed gasoline over the interior of the shop. Crime scenes are much harder to analyze when they’re a pile of ash and rubble. They finished outside. Miya tossed the last two cans through the opened door as Skulker produced a lighter.

“Wanna do the honors?”

“Fuck yeah.” She lit the lighter, then tossed it into the door as they both backed up. The gas caught fire instantly.

She watched the dark smoke rise. The magic of something didn’t agree with the flames; something started an inhuman shriek from within before cutting off. Slim Jim, Doctor Orange, Overlord.

“Outta here. This ain’t subtle, an’ it’s daytime now,” said Skulker, looking around.

She nodded mutely. Don said something about reinforcements. I think that was just bluster, but we should get out of here in case it wasn’t. Though he wasn’t too concerned right up until the end. They jogged through the back lot and into an alleyway.

“Ya know he woulda told you anythin’ to make the pain stop, yeah?” said Skulker.

“I am aware,” replied Miya.

“Found some stuff in his safe you may wanna take a look at,” he said, motioning to his duffel bag.

“Why?” Shit, did I kill the wrong person?

“It proves ya right.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Solid gold in-” The walls of the alley warped inwards, cutting off both whatever Skulker had been about to say and the way to Skulker’s car. Shit, what?

Skulker grabbed Miya’s shoulder right before she collided with the now distended walls. “Down,” he yelled, pulling her to the ground behind a dumpster. Something exploded very close by right as she hit the dirt. It took her a moment to refocus her eyes and for the ringing in her ears to recede into the background. She gritted her teeth to distract herself from the pain.

Skulker hauled her to her feet as people behind them began shooting. Where the fuck did these guys come from? “Come on, come on,” he urged her, pulling out his own pistol and returning fire. The incoming bullets hammered against the metal of the dumpster, beneath the far louder cracks of Skulker firing.

Right. She pulled out her own pistol and turned around, squeezing off a couple shots. Masked men fired at them from the other end of the alleyway, no surprise there. Then another man jumped out from behind a corner and tossed a glowing rock.

“Magic bomb,” she screamed at Skulker, grabbing him and pulling him down. Is that Cynic? Who the fuck are the gunmen then?

She and Skulker ducked down as the glowing rock burst in midair. The bright flash of lights would have blinded them had Miya not pulled them back behind the dumpster. A cloud of dust hovered in the air where the detonation had occurred.

“Don’t touch it, it’ll fuck you up,” she yelled as Skulker as he started to get up. The gunmen kept up the fire at them. Don’t know how much longer this dumpster will last.

“Can’t stay here. That way,” he yelled back, pointing to a small hole in the stretched wall one of bombs had made.

They climbed through, the cloud obscuring the gunmen’s aim. Another rock exploded in the alley they left behind. They sprinted through an old video rental store and around two or three terrified customers huddled on the ground or running to a way out.

Skulker turned to make sure no one followed them through the hole. As she dashed to the front of the store, Miya noticed about four cars blocking the street through the front windows. More gunmen lay in wait behind them. Goddamn it.

“Down!” she screamed over her shoulder.

The hail of bullets shattered all of the windows. Skulker whirled around and ducked as Miya dropped to the ground once again, taking cover behind the solid part of the front wall. She heard a meaty thunk sound.

“Fuck!” roared Skulker, holding his hand close to his chest.

He crawled over to her. She pulled him against low wall and noticed blood spurting from his hand. Shit.

“Fuck!” roared Skulker, holding his hand close to his chest.

He joined her in leaning against the low wall, blood spurting from his hand. Shit.

“Put pressure on that,” she yelled, holding her pistol above the wall and blindly firing a couple times.

“Fuck!” he replied.

She stiff armed him against the wall, and shot the two men trying to get in through the front door. That just bought us maybe ten seconds.

She grabbed Skulker’s arm. More platelets for you. I’ve got a basic healing method, maybe that’ll slow the bleeding. “Pressure,” she repeated to Skulker.

“Fuck!” he replied.

They heard a roar and a scream. Bullets stopped shooting towards them. Wait. That was familiar. Miya poked her head around the corner. Olivia had torn up one car, trying to get at the two men behind it. Another of the gunmen lay bleeding in the street, crawling away. Where the fuck did you come from? Also, yay, we’re not going to die now!

To Miya’s right, liquid Nomad slammed another gunman into another car, scattering the remaining gunmen. An armored Delta behind him tossed something, and two went down convulsing. Nomad moved to backup Olivia against the other dozen gunmen as Delta rushed directly towards Miya. The baton on Miya’s hip started humming. Oh, that’s how they got here so quick.

“The hell is going on here?” said Delta as she reached them. What do you think?

“Skulker’s hurt,” Miya shouted back over the gunfire. A ball of fire sailed across the street, prompting another roar from Olivia.

“Fuck!” he added helpfully. He had a wad of his shirt pressed tight against his hand, which he curled his whole body around.

“Shit,” said Delta, producing a strip of bandages from one of many pockets she had worked into her armor. “We’ve got to get out of here. Cops are en route.”

Miya checked on the situation on the street. Nomad, back in human form since someone started throwing fireballs, fired from behind the car Olivia had wrecked. Olivia herself appeared to be anchored to the ground. She roared again, struggling to move her feet. Damn mages.

She noticed an unarmed man in the background, hidden in another alley. He looks like he’s trying to take a shit, so he’s concentrating. Miya glanced at Olivia, still trapped in one place and fighting. That’s not an insignificant thing to do. That would take a lot of concentration.

About half a dozen gunmen and a mage throwing fire had Nomad pinned. Miya vaulted the wall, cutting her hand on the broken glass. Ow. Fuck. That’ll heal. She ducked and sprinted past him and into the little grocery store on the opposite side of the street. I didn’t get shot.

She scrambled for the side door and poked her head into the alley. The man still hid there. Here we go. Got a nice iron knife for you. She broke into a sprint, knife in non-bleeding hand.

Miya collided with his back, ready to warp bones. Damn, still has magic defenses. Oh well. She stabbed her knife in the back of his knee. He screamed and thrashed as his knee buckled, throwing her off him. Miya recovered and hacked at him, not aiming anywhere in particular. The knife made contact with his side, and he went down on hands and knees.

Miya delivered a kick to his face, putting him fully on the ground. He tried to roll away, and Miya brought her foot down on his ribs. Another couple kicks to the temple and he stopped moving.

She whirled around. Anyone else? Nomad was back in human form, rifle aimed down the street. He wasn’t firing, so she assumed the others had finally fled. Then she heard sirens in the distance. Olivia was nowhere to be seen.

“Come on, this way,” Nomad called out to Miya, waving her over.

She ran to catch up with him. Behind him, Delta lead Skulker out of the other, now bullet ridden building.

“We’re getting out of here, then we’re going to have a chat,” Nomad continued to Miya. Fuck me, I’m an idiot.

Olivia circled overhead as Miya and Nomad joined Skulker and Delta at Chris’s car.

“How’s Skulker?” she asked Delta as Chris started the car.

“I’m alive. Take a look,” he said, holding out his hand.

He had two ragged bloody stumps where his middle and ring fingers should have been. Fuck me.

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