I hit the hallway already facing the exit. Ahead, I could see Ammon just disappearing through the inner set of doors that led to where the exit door and the stairs were. He paused just long enough to smile back at me before shouting at the top of his lungs. “My name is Ammon! Hurt Flick Chambers!”
The first of many curses just had time to spill from my mouth as something slammed into the door directly beside me. Doorknobs up and down the hall were shaking, jiggling back and forth as the occupants tried to join us in the corridor. But they weren’t opening. Gaia’s work? I hoped so.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t hold everyone. Just down the hall, I saw a metal-covered fist literally punch through the door and start to tear a larger hole. A little bit away from that, one of the other doors was engulfed in flames. And even as I took those in, my eyes were drawn to a bit of light red smoke that blew out from underneath one of the doorways. The crimson mist stuff billowed up and grew before solidifying into a human figure: Jazz Rhodes. The tall, dark-skinned girl was in her pajamas, her hair mussed from lying in bed. Her expression was blank as she hefted that falchion of hers. The blade had already split apart to reveal the barrel near the hilt, and I saw the flames starting to erupt from it.
By that point, I was up to my fifth or sixth curse in the running tally. As the fire shot down the hall toward me, I did the only thing I could: I dove for the floor. Rather than just hitting the ground though, I literally went through it. The floor was hard wood, and I was already merging with it as the flames shot through the space I had just been in. It was so close that I could feel the heat singe my hair.
Propelling myself through the wooden floor, I ignored Jazz. She wouldn’t try to hurt anyone except me, and the best way for me to stop that from happening was to get out of her sight. Not to mention avoiding every other person who had just been controlled into attacking me. Yeah, leaving was good.
Ammon was already sprinting again. The boy hit the exit door full tilt, slamming it open before landing on the outside. My brief hope that the security statue that was supposed to stop underage boys from entering our dorm would intervene was dashed as the damn thing remained motionless. Which, I suppose made sense. He had controlled the head of security, so it couldn’t have been that hard for him to make her disable measures like that. Hell, controlling Kohaku was probably the reason none of the security people had already descended upon the scene. Because of course they didn’t. That would be too damn easy.
I was right behind Ammon, and threw myself out of the wood just in time to crash into the psychotic little kid. The impact took my breath away, and the two of us went rolling wildly across the grass.
I tried to bring my staff around while grabbing for his arm. But Ammon managed to twist himself up enough to lash out with both feet, kicking me in the face so hard that I saw stars for a moment while falling backwards on the damp ground. While I was stunned, Ammon eeled his way free before rising.
“No,” I managed to get out while rolling over to lash out with my staff. It took the kid against the legs, dumping him back onto the ground once more. Then I tilted the staff slightly, triggering just a bit of the force that I had stored up. It was enough to throw my body into the air, and I twisted around to kick out, planting my foot hard against Ammon’s chin as he tried to sit up. He fell back, and I landed hard before stumbling. But, miracle of miracles, I managed to stay on my feet. I was up, he was down.
There we were. I was standing while Ammon was on his back. He was panting, I was fine. My staff, still almost fully charged, was pointed down at him. Part of me wanted to stop there, wanted to give him the chance to surrender. Wasn’t that what good people were supposed to do? He was helpless. There was no one close enough for him to control. Not yet anyway. And his powers didn’t work on me.
That was what the typical hero would do. Let him surrender. But, well…. fuck that. I flipped the staff around without a single word of warning, bringing it down while starting to trigger the kinetic bomb. He’d survive. After all, he’d survived falling out of the police station with little damage to show for it. But it’d hurt. It would slow him down. And most important of all, it would be just a little therapeutic.
Except that my staff never reached its target. An instant before both it and the kinetic blast would have slammed into Ammon’s prone form, pain abruptly erupted in one of my hands as something hit the staff so hard that it was torn from my grasp to go flying off into the grass. The agony drove me to one knee while a squeal escaped me in spite of myself, and I stared at the hole full of blood through the middle of my palm. Shot. I had been shot, the staff blown from my grasp just before I could hit Ammon. But there was no one in sight. Which, even through the haze of pain in my hand, told me one thing.
“Scout,” I managed before hurtling myself to the side. The instant I did, my ears caught the sound of one of her bullets tearing through the ground where I had just been. My best guess was that it would have hit my leg if I hadn’t moved. Per Ammon’s instructions, she was aiming not to kill, but to hurt.
A cold fear washed over me briefly. I had no idea where the shots would come from. Thanks to the invisible portals that Scout’s rifle could set up, the attack could come from any direction, any angle.
You know what? Fighting Heretics was awful. No wonder a lot of Alters were so damn terrified of us.
I barely processed that before hurtling myself into a forward roll. Don’t stand still. Don’t give Scout a good shot. Keep moving. Even if I didn’t know where the shots were coming from, I could make myself hard to hit. I had to hope that, even if she was controlled into doing this, the other girl wasn’t giving it her all. Any resistance, any hesitation, would help me avoid getting myself shot again.
Two bullets hit the ground about an inch from the spot where I had thrown myself. Shit, shit, shit. I rolled over as fast as I could, reaching for my staff with the hand that wasn’t busy healing. Unfortunately, it was still too far away. Worse, Ammon was already back on his feet, my momentary advantage lost. And, as if that wasn’t enough, I heard the nearby door slam open as someone emerged.
My head snapped that way, even as I threw myself backwards to avoid the next shot. Falling into an awkward roll, I spotted the person who had come out of the girl’s dorm, twin weapons in her hands. Koren. It was Koren. “What the hell is going on, Chambers?” she demanded, stepping down past the frustratingly motionless statue. “Why the fuck is everyone tearing the dorms apart looking for you?”
“My name is Ammon!” the kid shouted. “You, hurt Flick! Hold her, make her stop, make her bleed!”
Koren just blinked at him, her expression dubious. “What the hell are you talking about, kid?”
While Ammon was still recovering from his obvious surprise and confusion, I managed to shout, “Mind control! It’s mind control! Stop Scout! Koren, go stop Scout, she’s shooting at me!” Yeah, I’d have a lot more to explain later, but as long as Koren wasn’t an idiot, that should tell her enough.
And, thankfully, regardless of how difficult of a person my niece could be to actually get along with, she wasn’t stupid. As soon as she processed the words, the other girl was sprinting back into the dorm.
Praying that it would be enough, I took a step toward my staff, only to scream as a shot tore through my shoulder. God. Fuck. Fuck. It hurt. Even with the way the Peridle healing ability had already taken care of most of the damage in my hand, the two injuries together were still enough to make me want to curl up into a little ball and cry a little. It hurt so much. Yes, the injuries were healing, especially the one in my hand. And I was still lucky that Ammon had told Scout to hurt me. She was doing that rather than just finishing the fight the way she probably could have. If he’d told her to kill me, I might be down already. But of course, he wouldn’t do that. Even if he’d wanted to, I doubted that the kid would risk pissing off his father that much. After all, Fossor wanted to use me for his own sick little games.
Ammon had frozen as well, briefly paralyzed by confusion as he stared after the other girl. I could see the uncertainty on his face as he tried to work out why someone else was immune to his power.
Praying that Koren would be able to stop Scout from shooting again, I ignored my fallen staff and forced myself to run at the kid. He saw me coming, pivoted, and started to book it. The two of us ran across the grounds. I should have been faster than he was, but my injuries slowed me down. It hurt. Fuck, fuck, it hurt so much. But I kept going. I made myself keep going, refusing to allow Ammon the chance to escape. Not now, not after everything he’d already done. I had to grab him, had to hold him. If there was even the slightest, tiny chance that he’d be able to tell us where Mom was, I had to take it.
So, through the pain in both my hand and shoulder, I sprinted after my half-brother. My feet pounded through the grass, one step after another. I let the burning ache where I’d been shot motivate me to keep going. Stay on him. Catch up. Grab him. Stop him. The mantra worked its way through my mind, even as the pain tried its damnedest to make me stop. I ignored it and kept going, kept running, kept chasing.
It didn’t take long for me to realize, even through the haze of anger and agony, that we weren’t heading for the beach, or even the jungle. No. Our destination was becoming more clear with each passing step. Ammon was heading for the lighthouse where the Heretical Edge was. Why? Why was he going there?
The question was still working its way through my mind, with no clear answer, as we neared the building. However, just before he would’ve reached the doors, another figure came around the side. In this case, it was pretty much the last person I wanted to see standing so near my psychotic half-brother.
It was Shiori. I had no idea what she was doing there, why she was all the way over here after everyone was supposed to be in our rooms for curfew, but there she was. She looked surprised, stopping short at the sight of the two of us running almost directly toward her. Her confusion was written across her face.
“Shiori!” I shouted desperately at the girl while simultaneously trying even more desperately to lunge close enough to grab Ammon before he had a chance to speak. “Cover your ears! Cover your ea–”
It was too late on both counts. Ammon shouted over my own voice, “My name is Ammon, freeze!”
The other girl went completely still, just in time for the boy to dive and roll under my outstretched arm. He came up, hand going to his pocket before he withdrew an object that I barely managed to process before he was throwing it toward Shiori while calling out, “Catch this and hold it to your throat!”
It was a switchblade, I realized belatedly. She had it in her hand and to her throat by the time I managed to catch on to what was going on. My eyes went wide and I blurted in horror, “No, stop! Stop!”
“Freeze!” Ammon repeated, and I realized he was talking to both of us. The kid was already back on his feet, panting heavily as he added to Shiori. “If Flick moves from that spot, cut your own throat.”
Needless to say, I didn’t move. The pain in my shoulder and hand was almost forgotten as I focused entirely on the look of terror in the other girl’s eyes. The switchblade was held close to her throat, and I knew there was no way for me to get it from her before Ammon’s power would force her to cut deep.
Panting there, Ammon took a second to catch his breath while glaring angrily at me. “You… see… what… happens…” he snarled in between deep breaths, “when… you… break… the… rules?”
I ignored him, focusing on Shiori. The terror in her gaze was obvious, and I flinched at the idea of how horrified I would be if our positions were reversed. But it was worse for Shiori. She’d already been terrified at the idea of losing control over herself just because of what she was. This had to be reawakening all of that fear and disgust. As she held that blade close to her own throat, I saw a single tear in one of her eyes. She looked at me, mouthing a single word, a silent, desperate plea: Help.
“Ammon!” I shouted. “Let her go! Let her go, and I’ll come play with you. I’ll go with you, I promise.”
Before the kid could respond to that, it was Shiori who spoke. “No!” Her voice was shaking, but she managed it. “You can’t!” The tears in her eyes were worse, somehow. “You can’t go with him. If you try to, I’ll cut myself anyway.” The promise came as she stared at me. “Then you won’t have a reason to.”
My mouth opened, but Ammon spoke first. “Aww. This is like a movie or something. See? I knew my birthday would be fun.” He sounded genuinely excited and happy. This, all of it, was still just a game.
“But,” he went on then. “You really can’t. Stand still, don’t move a muscle unless Flick doesn’t do what I tell her to. If she disobeys, cut your own throat as deep as you can.” With that instruction, the boy turned his attention back to me, his expression triumphant. “See? I can control you, sis. I just have to control someone you care about. Then you have to do what I say. Check it out. Touch your nose.”
My eyes flicked toward Shiori before I slowly lifted my hand to follow Ammon’s instructions. “I swear, Ammon, if you do anything to her…” I warned through even as I tried in vain to think of a way to get that knife away from Shiori long enough to stop Ammon. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t have my staff, none of the abilities I had would do anything from this range, and I didn’t have any kind of magic prepared that would actually help in this case. Nothing to stop Shiori from cutting her own throat.
Ammon rolled his eyes. “That’s the point, ya know. I don’t do anything, you do what I say. You don’t do what I say, and she kills herself. That’s the new rules, and I’m gonna make sure you follow them from now on. Now bend over and touch your toes, big sis. Then we’ll all go on a trip, and we’ll play–”
That was as far as he got before a streak of motion went racing past me. My eyes snapped that way just in time to see the metallic figure leap toward Shiori. And just as the warning cry escaped my throat, Vulcan’s jaws closed tight around the girl’s arm. He tore her to the ground, somehow managing to avoid letting the blade cut her in the process. Then the knife was in the mechanical dog’s mouth as he yanked it free of Shiori’s grasp before swallowing the damn thing whole.
Then Vulcan whirled toward Ammon. Belatedly, I realized that Sean wasn’t here. Somehow, he had figured out what was going on and sent Vulcan on ahead to help. Because while Sean himself was vulnerable to Ammon’s mind control, his mechanical dog wasn’t.
“Good boy!” I called, already moving. “Vulcan, sic him!”
The robotic canine gave a loud bark of agreement, then started to lunge that way. Ammon, for his part, was already spinning to run. Unfortunately, just as he reached the door of the lighthouse with us hot on his heels, the kid shouted toward Shiori. “Go drown yourself!”
I froze in mid-step, while Vulcan kept going, tearing into the lighthouse after the boy. My eyes snapped the other way, and I saw Shiori already running for the edge of the grounds. She was heading for the ocean.
I didn’t stop. I didn’t even pause to think about it. Pivoting on my heel, I ran after her. I didn’t even consider doing anything else. There was no question. Saving Shiori mattered more than anything else, even catching Ammon.
She had a head start, and she was faster than I was. Still, I was motivated, and I wasn’t tired. Together, the two of us ran across the dark grounds, past silent buildings. I needed help, I needed someone, but no one was around. No one was there. It was just us.
Shiori hit the beach ahead of me, but I threw up a cloud of sand to slow her down. It tore into her eyes, blinding the other girl. Anything to delay her, to make her hesitate, to give myself just a little more time.
She was at the waves and diving under them just barely ahead of me. Without thinking, I threw myself into the ocean after her. The cold was like a physical blow that took my breath away, leaving me disoriented for a second.
Then I focused. My eyes opened, and I barely saw the girl sinking ahead of me, slipping away through the dark water. Lunging forward, I caught her ankle. She kicked, struggling to free herself, to do what Ammon had ordered her to do.
Clawing my way up the other girl’s leg, I latched onto Shiori. Wrapping one arm around her, I tried to kick for the surface. She continued to struggle, fighting against me in spite of herself. She fought, screaming through the water for me to let her go, to not risk myself.
I ignored her even as I struggled to maintain my grip. It was dark, cold, and disorienting. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know which way was up anymore. I was just clinging to Shiori, holding onto her, trying to help her, trying to save her.
My head lifted enough to see the moonlight just above us, as we sank down deep into the cold, remorseless ocean.