Spinning back to the other two, I blurted, “Okay, all those guys have either powers or guns or both. The point is, we need to get out of here. Like, now now. Is that remote gonna help us leave?” As I was speaking, I made three separate lines of green paint, running from my ankle up to my waist, appear on my right leg. A second later, I did the same on my left leg with purple paint. I didn’t power it, I just made it appear.
One of the guys I had handcuffed called out, “Or you could fucking surrender, hijo de puta! Maybe Cuélebre’ll actually let you keep one of your lungs!”
Fred stared at the man for a moment, while Wren started running back toward her lab. “This way!” With a grunt, the man turned back to follow his niece. I was right behind him.
Just as we reached the spot where the stairs were, a hail of gunfire greeted us from below, making all three of us duck back away from them. Apparently the first group had made it through the doors down there and were already shooting. Which seemed like a really stupid way to get information out of any of us, but what did I know?
Someone down there must have agreed with me, however, because I heard frantic shouting to stop shooting. Then a new voice called up, “Hey! You give us the guy, or the thing he stole from that bank. Either way, then we leave you alone! You got it? That’s a good deal, right?”
I had a real bad feeling that they weren’t going to listen if we just told them we didn’t have either of those. I also saw Fred’s mouth opening to say so, so I shot a small glob of black paint to silence him before whispering, “The only reason they’re not rushing up those stairs right now and shooting all of us is because they think we might have what they want. Let’s not give them a reason to doubt that.”
Raising my voice then, I called, “These things are worth a lot! You think we’re just gonna let you take them?” As I said those words, three triangles appeared on my left arm, along with three circles, and three stars. The triangles were orange, the circles purple, and the stars green.
While a loud burst of murmuring started from the people below, I thought quickly before looking back the way we had come. Using red paint, I pulled two of the discarded guns to me, catching them in either hand.
“Do you even know how to use those?” Fred hissed, clutching his own weapon.
From below, the guy who had spoken before called up, “You know, you’re in a bad position! But maybe we can work something out! Say, you walk out with a cool hundred grand!”
Shaking my head to Fred’s question, I focused on painting the guns in my hand white while calling back, “Hundred grand out of three million isn’t much of a share!”
While they were reacting to that below, I looked to the others. “On the count of three, run for it. One… two…”
I threw both guns over the edge of the stairs them, letting them fall a bit before triggering the paint. There was a sudden bright flash and screams from the men who were blinded.
“Three!” I blurted, already scrambling to my feet to run across the opening. Guns were going off, but we were already past the opening and on our way into the lab.
The second we were through, Wren blurted some kind of code, and a heavy steel door fell into place. Hopefully that would buy us a little bit of time, though I had no idea how many of the Oscuro Touched had shown up. I was racking my brain, trying to remember what powers we had to deal with. But it was hard to think through all the panic.
Wren was moving toward one of the tables of random junk, digging through it for something. Meanwhile, Fred looked to me. “You really think you can get us away from these assholes even if we get out of the building?”
For a second, I was quiet before nodding. “If we can get to the roof, I think I can get us to another building. Then we can go from there. But I don’t see what we’re supposed to be doing in this—”
“Got ‘em!” Wren blurted. We both looked that way to see her triumphantly holding up a pack of batteries. She took four out and shoved them into the remote I’d gotten for her, then hit a button on it. As she did so, part of the roof above us immediately began to retract. It slid aside, revealing open sky.
“I like to see the stars sometimes,” the girl explained with a shrug before gesturing to the opening. “Are you guys coming, or what?” Even as she spoke, her dragonfly-like wings popped out of that harness once more and she hovered up off the floor. “Come on!” Her hand snapped out to grab a backpack that she had apparently thrown some things into before rising.
“Kid,” Fred started, “how the hell am I supposed t—”
By that point, I had finished filling some of the blank space between the lines I’d made earlier with new purple, and sprayed a circle of blue under our feet. In the middle of the man’s sentence, I wrapped my arms around him, then triggered that purple bit and the blue on the floor all at once as I leapt. Between the new strength in my legs, and the boost from the blue circle, I completely cleared the hole in the roof, while Fred screamed in my ear. Really should’ve hit him with black paint again.
Landing easily on the roof, I let the man go. He stumbled to his knees and panted as Wren hovered nearby on her mechanical wings.
Meanwhile, below us, there was a sudden commotion. I looked down through the hole in time to see the heavy steel door melt into slag. One of the Oscuro Touched came through, accompanied by several foot soldiers. I recognized the guy immediately, thanks to his long red leather trench coat and matching welding mask. His name was Coverfire, and his powers allowed him to sheath himself in a very close force field that was immune to most damage and also so hot it could basically melt through anything.
Coverfire looked up through the hole in the roof and started to shout something, just as Wren hit the button to make it close once more. “Kay!” She chirped while gripping that backpack with one hand. “We can leave now.”
Right. Quickly, I sprayed a line of blue paint down near the edge of the roof. “Fred and I are going to jump off that circle there. It should get us to the next roof. From there, we can drop down and run. Wren, can your uhhh, wing… things keep up with that?” At her quick nod, I breathed out. “Okay, then let’s do it.”
“Wait, wait,” Fred blurted, “are you sure this is gonna work?” His eyes were wide with panic.
Shrugging at him, I pointed to the spot of roof where the hatch was. It was already glowing red. Somehow, Coverfire was able to get high enough to start melting through it. I didn’t know how, since I was pretty sure he couldn’t fly, but I wasn’t going to question it. “You could always stay and talk it out with them.”
Grimacing, the man spun toward the blue circle and ran for it. I was right behind him, with Wren flying alongside us. I caught up easily, and we jumped on the blue circle just as I activated it, using that to launch ourselves over to the next building.
We came down on the roof. Fred basically crashed into a heap, rolling with his fall as he cursed the whole way. Meanwhile, I painted my feet orange and landed easily in a crouch. While straightening up, I painted a sort of… comet shape on my chest. It was mostly orange, with a bit of black as an outline, along with purple and green flames trailing behind it.
We’d made it. We were off the first building. Now all we had to do was get down off the other side out of sight before they got people up on the roof, and then—
Fred suddenly started cursing extensively, and I quickly looked that way to see him peering off the edge of the roof near the shop we had just left. Moving that way, I looked down.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have to look that far to see what he was staring at. The figure below was about half the height of the two-story building we were standing on. Fifteen feet tall, with enormous bat-like wings, dark blue-violet skin, and a long bladed tail, he was instantly recognizable.
Cuélebre. It was Cuélebre, the leader of Oscuro. And he was looking right at me, a slow smile appearing on his enormous face.
I didn’t stop to think. My hand snapped out and I grabbed the backpack out of Wren’s hands while blurting, “I’ll get it back to you, get outta here!”
With those words, I leapt off the side of the building while hauling the bag onto my shoulder. Painting my feet orange once more at the last instant, I landed on the ground just a short distance away from Cuélebre. Then I looked up.
Ohhhh God. Oh fuck. Oh shit, shit, shit. He was even bigger from this angle. He was fucking gigantic. He was an enormous demon, watching me with a wry smirk on his face, which itself was clearly recognizable as a Latino man, even if it was purplish-blue. He was a fifteen foot tall, hugely muscular winged demon standing at his full, impressive height. Meanwhile, even when I was standing up, I barely topped five feet. And I wasn’t standing, I’d landed in a crouch.
I looked like a mouse he might step on.
“Well,” the man announced with obvious amusement, “this does save me the few seconds it would take to chase you down. I wasn’t expecting you to be this cooperative.”
Strangely, for a man whose entire thing was to create a gang consisting only of Latino members, Cuélebre spoke with literally no accent. If I had closed my eyes, I could have believed that I was hearing any old white guy talking. And I dearly, dearly wanted to close my eyes.
Instead, I rose to my much less-than-impressive height, squared my shoulders, and looked up at the man. “Your friend in there wanted to rip me off. A hundred thousand off of three million after all the work I’ve put into finding these— those vials? Why don’t you make a better offer and maybe I’ll tell you where they are?”
For a moment, the giant figure in front of me stared as though finding it difficult to believe I was that stupid. Behind him, some of his foot soldiers chuckled, saying some things in Spanish.
“Well,” Cuélebre slowly drawled, “we could stand here and negotiate. Or you could hand over that bag.”
Making myself look at it quickly and, I hoped, expressing guilt in my body language and voice, I blurted, “What do you want my bag for?”
The smirk grew, and his tail suddenly flashed forward, stopping right in front of me as though waiting for me to place the bag on the bladed tip. “Call it a hunch.”
Shifting from one foot to the other, I hesitantly replied, “Well, I… I suppose… if you want the bag…”
My hands snapped up and back over my head, pointing to the roof of the building across the street while I finished with, “You can come get it!”
Before he or the others could react, the red paint I had just shot and connected to my red gloves yanked me up and backwards. I heard the man shout a curse as I was hauled across the street, spinning over in the air to face that way.
Hearing gunfire and shouting behind me, I released the red paint and tucked my legs to overshoot the roof. Landing in a sprint, I raced for the opposite edge of the roof while painting the blank space on my legs green to speed myself up.
Chancing a peek over my shoulder as I reached the edge of the roof, I saw Cuélebre as he hurled himself into the air, his wings beating down hard. He could fly. He was going to catch up with me pretty damn quick if I didn’t hurry the hell up.
Hitting the edge of the roof, I leapt, snapping my hand out and shooting a glob of red paint at a billboard in the distance to yank myself that way. Behind me, I could hear my terrifying pursuer’s wings beating the air. Faster, Cassidy, go faster!
Landing on top of the billboard, I ran along it while Cuélebre shouted for me to stop. He was soaring over the roof I had just left, as I turned my feet purple for a bit of a boost and leapt from the billboard to another roof a short distance below. In mid-air, I spoke the code to make my skates pop out, landing smoothly right on the raised brick lip at the edge of the roof before rolling along it.
Everything had started too quick for me to really think about what I was doing. My only thought had been to get this guy away from Wren and Fred. And now? Well, now I was basically running in a blind panic. If he caught me, and even worse, if he found out I didn’t really have the vials but had purposely tricked him into thinking I did so he would chase me? I really didn’t want to think about what he would do. Didn’t want to think about it at all.
Less thinking, more running, skating, jumping, and fleeing.
Hitting the edge of the new roof just as Cuélebre came down hard right behind me with enough force to shake the building, I shot a bit of blue paint right at the corner, launching myself upward and forward right before the man’s giant hand swept through the air where I had just been.
“Have you thought about working for my school?!” I half-frantically called back to him while landing against the wall of a taller building, using red paint on my right hand and right foot to hold myself there with a quick glance that way. “They could really use you as a truant officer!”
Why was I trying to piss him off even more? The guy was already mad enough and definitely following me. I let out an almost cartoon-like meep as the giant demon-figure hurled himself off the last roof toward me, and used a line of red to yank myself away, back to the next roof over.
I landed on my wheels, activated one of the green lines on my legs. This is what they were for. I–well, I hadn’t known that I’d be running from fucking Cuélebre, but having paint made in advance had seemed like a good idea after what happened back in the shop. And it was sure coming in handy now.
Glancing over my shoulder that time turned out to be a good thing, because Cuélebre was hovering in the air with his tail up, bladed end pointed at me while sparks danced around it.
Oh shi–I dove sideways, activating a green mark on my leg and one of the orange triangles on my arm. An instant later, a bolt of lightning shot from the end of the man’s tail, slamming into the spot where I had been. He’d clearly toned the shot down from what he was capable of, trying to stun me rather than kill me (I’d seen news footage of a full-power shot from that tail taking out a car). Even then, it blew some of the bricks from the roof away, singing others.
I was wrong, he hadn’t just been trying to stun me. He’d been trying to blow at least one of my feet off, if not a whole leg.
Of course, things weren’t done getting worse. Even as I picked myself up from where I’d haphazardly thrown myself into the middle of the roof, I could see sparks dancing out from the impact site where the bolt had hit. It looked like static electricity or something dancing around the rubble there. Then, one by one, the broken pieces of metal, stone, and brick lifted themselves into the air.
Yeah, because having a lightning doom cannon attached to his tail wasn’t enough. The guy could dial the damage on the shot all the way from ‘blow through a car’ down to ‘stings a little bit,’ and every time one of his shots hit something, it sent out those bits of electricity that gave the man telekinetic-like control of any non-living material they hit.
So to recap, Cuélebre was a giant demon with flight, vast super-strength, was basically invulnerable, had a lightning cannon for a tail, and could telekinetically control anything said lightning hit and didn’t destroy. I, meanwhile, had… paint. Whoever’s idea it was for me to pick a fight with this guy was an idiot.
Ducking as two larger bits of debris were hurled at my head, I shot a quick wave of yellow over the rest of the debris, hoping that the slowing effect would keep them off me as I spun to run away. In the process, I activated another line of green paint on my legs as well as one of the green stars on my arm just to boost myself even further. Then I hauled ass, running to the edge of the roof.
Cuélebre was right above and behind me. I leapt from the roof, using red paint to yank myself to the next building over before skating along the wall. He sent several more shots around me, narrowly missing with each one, mostly thanks to the green paint keeping me going faster than he expected. Each shot blew bits of the building away, adding more to the debris that he kept flinging my way. I had to keep activating the orange triangles to avoid being knocked off the wall.
From that building, I jumped to the roof of another and kept going. Run, run, run, ruuuuun!
He was there. He was always there, right on my heels. I raced through the city, leaping from roof to roof, saved from screaming in a blind panic only by the fact that all of my breath was going toward running. If he caught me, if he caught me…
Eventually, I hit the edge of yet another roof. I could see a covered pedestrian bridge in the distance connecting two buildings in the nearby business park. As I ran for it, I’d barely crossed about three quarters of the roof when the whole thing shook under me as Cuélebre landed with a guttural roar that practically made me pee myself for like the seventeenth time in the past ten minutes. I didn’t dare look back. I didn’t need to, considering I could practically feel his breath on my neck.
I heard and felt him lunge. It was too soon, I wasn’t going to make it. My only chance to avoid being caught and probably killed was…
I jumped. Using the last of the purple lines on my leg, I hurled myself straight up into the air rather than forward. I felt his massive form pass by right under me while I turned in a flip in mid-air, landing in a crouch on his back. His wings beat hard against the air, nearly knocking me off while the man himself let out a grunt of surprise.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! I was literally riding on the back of one of the most powerful and dangerous Touched in the tri-state area. And from the sound of things, he wasn’t exactly thrilled by that fact. That tail of his was already whipping up and around to smack me off of him.
Quickly, I shot one glob of red paint at the incoming tail and another glob to the roof. My ten seconds on the purple paint wasn’t up yet, so I hurled myself up off of him while activating the red paint. “No thanks!” I called while his tail was yanked down, “I’ll just get off here!”
In the air, I snapped my hand out and shot another bit of red at the bridge across the lot. Cuélebre was already recovering, snapping his tail away from my paint, breaking the hold it had. The bladed end cut through the air right where I had been an instant before my new paint yanked me away. Giddy from my escape, I yelled back, “Seriously, truant officer, you could wear a cute little vest!”
Soaring toward the bridge, I tucked my legs up to clear the railing and landed right inside between a couple of startled onlookers.
“Are you stupid?!” I blurted without thinking. “Run!”
Both of the men screamed, as a loud crunch filled the air and part of the roof of the bridge dented inward. Cuélebre was here.
With a shriek of tearing metal, his tail was driven through the roof of the bridge. It narrowly missed everyone before being retracted lightning quick to come down again. That time, it came within a few hairs of splitting one of the men in half.
Cursing myself (and them, to be honest), I painted part of my arms purple and lunged that way. I managed to catch hold of the tail and held on for dear life with one arm while grabbing onto the nearby railing with the other. “Run!” I repeated to the men who were frozen in terror.
Thank fuck, they ran. Cuélebre tried to retract his tail again, but I was still holding on. For a second, anyway. I could feel his strength completely outstripping mine. He was going to rip that tail out of my grip, or rip me in half. Whichever came first.
Or, he was going to punch a hole through the roof with his fist, rip it open and glare down at me. Yeah, that was the one he went with.
“Uhhhh…” I gave him an awkward nod while still clinging to his tail. “Sup?”
With a snarl, the demonic-man went to grab me. But I reacted quicker, releasing his tail and the railing. The purple paint was done anyway. Falling onto my back in the middle of the bridge as his groping hand narrowly missed me, I threw myself into a backward roll before he could correct his aim. The bag came off my back, but I snatched it up just in time while scrambling to my feet. Then I was running along the bridge, hearing the sound of Cuélebre scrambling along the roof above me while the whole structure shook around us. Every once in awhile, one of his hands would punch through the roof, or his tail would come lashing in from the side. I was running, ducking, rolling, jumping, twisting, doing everything to avoid him. His fingers would nearly catch my head before I rolled under them. His tail would sweep in and I would leap up and over it. He was only missing by millimeters. The end of the bridge leading into the building was close, but so was he.
“Shit, shit, shit, fuck, shit, fuck!” My stunning verbal skills throughout this leg of my frantic escape were sure to win me an astounding number of grammatical awards.
But I was there. I was right there, almost into the building. Unfortunately, Cuélebre noticed how close we were too, and leapt ahead. Just before I had a chance to get into the building proper, the enormous demonic figure literally slammed his entire body down through both the roof and floor. The whole end of it broke apart with a terrifying crash, shattering into pieces to leave a gap between the end of the bridge and the building. Cuélebre himself hovered there, glaring at me. Even better, the damage we’d done to the bridge was extensive enough that the whole thing was starting to collapse. With a loud grinding, tearing noise, the structure was swaying. The floor was literally starting to fall out from under me.
Oh, and there were people far below who were staring up like idiots while the pieces of the bridge slowly began to collapse. The whole thing would fall any second, and they were just standing there. So, this whole thing was just… lovely, really.
Activating the green comet flames on my shirt to speed myself up, I simultaneously turned the backpack white, with a small red circle, hurling the bag up toward my relentless pursuer. Reflexively, his gaze snapped to it, just as I triggered the blinding flash. He recoiled, buying me a second or two.
In the meantime, I was falling through the air. Flipping over, I turned my feet red and used a quick shot to attach myself to the side of the building, facing downward toward the two idiot rubberneckers. Perched there, I pointed one arm at them while pointing my other hand a short distance away. Red paint sprayed from both, coating the two and a nearby park bench. As it activated, the onlookers were yanked off their feet and hurled sideways to crash into the bench an instant before the collapsing bridge completely gave up and crashed down right where they had been standing.
Meanwhile, Cuélebre had recovered already and was grabbing for the bag. But I activated the spot of red I’d left on it while holding a red glove up, and the thing flew right between his hands and into mine.
Yeah, I could’ve just let him have it, but something told me that while it didn’t have the medicine, any Tech-Touched stuff Wren might have in there wouldn’t be good for him to get either. Or she could have family mementos, and I didn’t want to lose those either.
Before I could move, Cuélebre was there. Hovering right in front of me, his massive hand caught hold of my body. I was suddenly crushed in his grip, while he glared. “That,” he announced as I felt sharp pain spreading, my bones seconds away from collapsing under the force, “is quite enough of that, little boy. You could have done this the easy way. But now, I think I prefer the–”
He was gone. No, I was gone. I was somewhere else. Suddenly, I wasn’t in his grasp. I was standing in a parking lot somewhere. With a yelp, I stumbled and fell onto my backside.
“Sorry!” Wren was there, hovering over me with an apologetic look. “It took a few minutes to get to the van, and then we had to set up the teleporter, and wait for you to have the bag back so we could use the beacon in it. Are you okay?”
Beacon… teleporter… van… I was… I was safe. I was away from the demonic asshole. I wasn’t dead.
I wasn’t dead!
“We’re okay?” I asked a bit shakily. “We’re safe? No one’s around?”
Her head bobbed up and down. “Uh huh. We weren’t followed or anything. No one’s here.”
“Okay.” Slowly pushing myself up, I murmured, “Excuse me for just a second, okay?” As gracefully and carefully as possible, I stood, stepped away from the girl… and then proceeded to pump my fists in the air, jumping up and down as I cackled madly, laughing so hard I nearly peed myself.
“Yes, yes, yes! Haaaaaa ha ha! Haaaaa! Take that, you giant demon asshole! What’d you get out of all that, huh? What’d you get out of chasing me? Tired! That’s what you got!