“Does Seller know you guys are pulling this shit?” Avalon’s voice was even as she stared down the guy with the heavy pike, Trice. “Do the Victors? You and I both know they wouldn’t approve it.”
“Fuck them!” Trice shouted back at her. Behind him, the handful of figures that were still in shadows muttered agreement. “You killed my brother. Torv is dead because of you. Because you’re a cunt. Now you’re gonna pay for it, and hiding behind your new bitch mommy isn’t gonna save you. You’re dead.”
“What’d you do to Scout, you son of a–” Sands was trying to yank herself free from Avalon’s grip, the mace in her hand raised threateningly as she glared at the boy who stood over her twin. “Let go!”
Trice glanced to the pair of crumpled figures on the ground before shaking his head. “The girl’s fine. They both are. Or they will be. And they’ll stay that way as long as they don’t get in the way again. We’ve got no beef with them, or with anyone else here except her.” He used two fingers to point at Avalon. “The rest of you little students can run right along home. In fact, you turn around and go back to that cabin where you found the chamrosh and you’ll find the way back to your safe little island.”
The green-haired boy’s eyes were narrow slits as he continued to stare at my roommate, his voice dark. “Only one person needs to die here tonight. And trust me, she’s had it coming for a long time.”
“Fuck you,” Sands shot back, finally wrestling herself free of Avalon’s grip. “You think we’re gonna abandon our teammate? Just because you Garden fuck-ups can’t even spell loyal, let alone define it.”
One of Trice’s companions that was still obscured by shadows pointed a dark-skinned hand while snapping, “You watch your mouth, little girl. Least we’ve got an actual fucking garden. You spoiled little Crossroads Academy shits live on a gods damn island. There ain’t no fucking roads to cross!”
“Shut it, Doxer.” Trice ordered the boy. “We’re not here for that, and we’re not trying to start shit with untrained children. We’re not here to fight or hurt anyone except for little Hannah Owens. That’s it.”
Somewhere behind me, Columbus blurted, “Wait a second, who the hell is Hannah Owens?”
Ignoring him, Trice kept his attention on Avalon. “Torv didn’t deserve to go like that. Not from you. Christ, do you even remember how much shit he put up with for you? He stuck up for you. He went out of his way to get you food, to take care of you, teach you how to fight. If it wasn’t for Torv, you’d still be that scared little runt that couldn’t even raise her voice. He brought you up outta nothing. So what if he wanted a little something for it in the end? You fucking owed him, you selfish cunt. Just cuz you’d rather munch rug than polish the chrome doesn’t mean you can’t pay a guy back for everything he did.”
Anger boiled up in me, but before either I or Avalon could say anything, Sean stepped in. “Okay, look, uhhh, Assface. Can I call you Assface? I’m gonna call you Assface. Mostly because every word that comes out of your mouth just reminds me of one massive flatulence problem. So here’s the thing, Assface. Being nice is not a god damn currency exchange. You don’t get to trade being a decent fucking person for future fun times. You earn one thing from being a relatively good person, just one. And that’s help from other relatively good people when you need it. That’s all you get. Anything else is just blind fucking stupidity, and if your brother thought treating a girl with a little respect meant she owed him anything more than friendship, then he was a piece of shit who got what he deserved.”
“You watch your fucking mouth, you ignorant shit.” Trice pointed the heavy pike toward the boy, while Vulcan growled from beside Sean. “We’re doing you a favor by giving you a chance to walk away.”
The partially-hidden figure on the opposite side of Trice, the one next to Doxer, spoke up for the first time, revealing a high, excited female voice. “Told ya they’d throw it back in our faces, Trice! C’mon, lemme play with ’em! You never let me play! C’mon!” The figure was all-but dancing with eagerness.
“One more chance,” Trice informed us. “I’m gonna count to ten. Then I’m coming after Hannah. Anyone else that gets in the way, Doxer and Pace get to play with. And they tend to break their toys.”
“Take the offer,” Avalon instructed the rest of us, her gaze still not leaving the boy. “Like he said, they don’t care about you. None of you are trained. You can’t match any of them. You’re not ready for this kind of fight, so take Scout and the prick and walk away. This doesn’t involve any of you.”
“Yeeeeaaah see, I could do that,” I conceded with an absent wave of my hand. “But it would involve getting a whole new roommate and well, that’s just not a hassle I need right now. So I think we’ll probably just help you smack these pricks around a little instead and see how that goes.” As I spoke, my eyes glanced down toward my formerly mangled arm. By that point, bare minutes after it had been practically torn to shreds, my arm was just fine again. It was like… well, it was like magic. Duh.
Trice counted slowly, in no apparent hurry to rush things. Each gradually drawled number was followed by a couple seconds of silence. His gaze was locked onto Avalon, the hate and desire for revenge clear in his murderous eyes. There was no nuance there, no sympathy, regret, or doubt about what he was doing. He didn’t just want to kill the girl, he wanted her to suffer as much as possible.
Avalon, for her part, was glaring openly at me. “Chambers, leave. All of you, leave. This isn’t about you. Take Scout. Take Adams. And get the fuck out of here, now. This is not a god damn game.”
“See, you’re right,” I replied. “It’s not a game. Which means we don’t have to follow any rules.”
With that, I shoved the staff that I had been charging ever since the trio had shown up and triggered the blast of kinetic energy. It shot out from the staff in an invisible wave, slamming into the three figures.
Or it should have. Unfortunately, two of the three were no longer there. Only Trice still stood in place, that pike of his twisted at an angle. As the wave of force came at him, he stepped toward it, catching the wave on his weapon somehow. A small tornado appeared around the blade of the pike as the force that I had sent at him was captured, before he gave it a flick. The force shot off of his weapon, slamming into the already-leaping Vulcan to send the mechanical dog flying off to crash into the dirt.
Sands was there, swinging her mace up and around with a two-handed blow. Trice gave a casual flick of his pike, catching the end of it on the handle of the mace to knock it off course before stepping out and around the girl. His weapon snapped back sharply, the long handle smacking into Sands’ shoulder to knock her stumbling past him. A second later, he twisted a little to the side, a motion as casual as if he was simply cracking his neck. The blue-silver beam of concussive force that Columbus had shot from his goggles sailed past the spot where the boy’s head had been an instant earlier.
Then he was in front of me. The blunt end of his pike lashed up and over, and I barely caught it on my own weapon, snapping it up into place just in time to avoid taking the blow to my throat. The force of his attack sent painful vibrations through my hands, nearly knocking the weapon from my grasp.
Before I could even start to recover from that, Trice had reversed the course of his pike, and the pointy end was abruptly coming straight up toward my eye, while my staff remained horribly out of position.
At the last instant, a glowing energy sword interposed itself between my face and the incoming pike. Avalon smacked the blade out of the way before lashing out with a kick that forced the boy to take a step back. Rather than give him a chance to recover, my roommate went after him fast and hard. She lashed out with the blade of energy from her right gauntlet, forcing him to deflect it with his pike. While he was still out of position and recoiling, Avalon lunged in on the other side, her left hand snapping out with a second blade of energy already forming as she lashed out at him.
He stepped in, evading the blade with a quick twist of his body before smacking the other girl in the face with his elbow. She reeled just enough to give him an opening, which he took advantage of by shoving the blade of his pike down toward the girl’s knee. Avalon managed to twist away from it fast enough to deck him across the face with the flat of her fist, back-handing the boy hard.
In the same moment, however, Trice kicked Avalon’s legs out from under her, sending my roommate down hard onto her back. He followed that up by trying to shove his weapon straight down into her briefly prone form. He might even have managed it within the extremely brief second before Avalon recovered, except that she wasn’t alone. Lunging that way, I lashed out with my own weapon, colliding it with his just in time to knock the descending pike off-course so that it struck the ground beside the other girl.
Before he could yank the weapon out of the ground, Columbus shot another beam of force at him, careful to avoid hitting anyone else. But Trice dropped into a backwards roll, letting the blast of concussive energy fly past above him while his foot kicked out to knock his own pike up and over.
The weapon fell neatly into the boy’s hand, and he twisted around while rolling to his knees, bringing it up just in time to catch Sands’s descending mace. Shoving her out of the way with a quick motion of his arms, Trice flipped himself up into a kick that struck Sean across the face, knocking him sprawling right into Columbus’s path before the other boy could fire another shot.
Avalon, back on her feet by that point, had read the incoming situation perfectly. She positioned herself where Trice would have to move, catching him with nowhere else to go and seemingly no time to react or change course. Her gauntlet swung, the energy sword cutting through the air to literally disarm him.
Trice disappeared. As Avalon’s blade cut through the air where his arm had been, the boy completely and unexpectedly vanished for about half a second before reappearing directly behind the girl. The blade of his weapon was aimed straight for her back, and there was a twisted sneer on his face as he shoved it forward.
Then Vulcan was there. The mechanical dog leapt, jaws closing around the long shaft of the pike, tearing it out of Trice’s grip half of an instant before the blade would have hit Avalon.
Sands took the chance to attack the boy from the left while he was left weaponless, while I hit him from the other side. She went high toward his face, and I swung my staff for his knee.
He leapt over my attack, twisting to avoid the swing of Sands’ mace. In the end, he might have evaded both of our attacks entirely. Might have. Except Sands wasn’t just swinging her mace. She also created a circular wall right beside the boy, just in time for my staff to smack into it as I triggered the button that deposited a mine against the magically constructed wall. Then both Sands and I smacked our weapons against the spot where the mine was before simultaneously throwing ourselves in opposite directions.
The mine exploded against the wall directly beside Trice before he could recoil. The boy was knocked to the ground with a cry, sprawling there for a moment before he rolled over.
Sands and I both started to move, knowing that we had to take the chance we had before Trice could recover. Unfortunately, before we could go more than a step, a new figure appeared directly in front of us. “Uh uh,” the tall, dark-skinned guy that was obviously Doxer announced. “Time to let those two sort things out on their own. Trice gets to deal with Hannah. You girls can play with me.”
Meanwhile, I caught a glimpse of the girl, Pace, interposing herself between Columbus and Sean. And a little bit ahead of us, Trice had gotten back to his feet to face Avalon.
Three of them. With Avalon’s help, we had barely been holding against just Trice. Now we were split up. Avalon was left to face Trice on her own, while Sands and I had Doxer to deal with, and the boys had Pace. When it had been five-on-one, we had just barely managed to knock him down.
“Don’t worry, little girls,” the big guy informed us while cracking his neck to the side. “This won’t take long. Unless I start having fun. Then we might be here awhile.”
With that, his fist lashed out. I barely had the chance to notice the blur of motion before the blow took me in the face so hard I hit the ground before I knew what was happening. His punch was like a freight train. I was in the dirt, pain filling my face while Sands yelped my name. A second later, she went sprawling over me to hit the ground as well.
“Oh yeah,” Doxer chuckled, cracking his knuckles as he stood over us.
“This is gonna be fun.”