Coming down on the roof of the next building, I stumbled and almost fell. It was actually Eits, recovering a bit from his surprise, who caught me. “Paintball, why’d you bring me wi–”
“Sedans!” I blurted. “Red sedans! Take over every red sedan you can find that doesn’t have anyone in it and bring them with us!” Even as I said it, my hand caught his and I started running, painting my legs green while using my other hand to shoot more green at the boy himself to speed both of us up. We ran together, racing to the other side of the roof. “Cuélebre and his people are after a red sedan, send in more to confuse them! Catch up with the right one and mix them up. Shell game, make them lose track of which is the right one! And keep running!”
We hit the edge of that roof, and I used blue paint to launch both of us upward. I could see Cuélebre in the distance. He wasn’t that far away yet. Faster. I had to be faster. We had to be faster. Because if we didn’t stop this, not only would Cuélebre get the vial in that car in addition to the one he already had, he’d also find out where Wren was hiding.
I had to get his attention. I had to get him focused on me. And I knew just how to do that. But we had to get close enough. As Eits and I landed on the next roof over and kept running, I held my free arm out and shot a line of red paint ahead of us. A second later, I took my other hand from the boy’s, wrapped my arm around his waist, and let the paint yank us forward.
We repeated that several times, the motions coming so rapidly I could barely think about them. Activating green paint that was already on my costume to keep moving as fast as possible, blue paint for jumps, red paint to yank us forward, repeat. Repeat, repeat. Everything was a blur, as I raced toward Cuélebre. He may have been literally flying, but we might as well have been. For that short time, I don’t think we spent more than a handful of seconds actually on the ground. Errr, roofs. And to his credit, Eits didn’t barf. I was pretty sure that was mostly because the majority of his attention was on sending his mites out to grab various nearby cars as we passed them, but still.
There, there! Cuélebre was just ahead of us and slightly above. His attention was focused ahead and down, scanning the street as he hovered there for the moment, clearly intent on spotting the car. Any second now, he was going to dive, grab the sedan, and be out of there. No, no, no, I had to do something!
Too late, his form started to invert as prepared himself to dive. The car was in sight. He was going for it. He was going to have it. We couldn’t stop him. We couldn’t–
Then I saw it. A sudden freezing in his body language. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew there would be a look of confusion. And in the distance, I saw cars. Sedans. Red sedans. They were coming in from every other street. Eits had captured them, was bringing them along and sending the cars in to distract and disorient Cuélebre. Soon, the real car was surrounded by other, similar-looking cars. The whole street was flooded with over a dozen red sedans.
It was enough to make Cuélebre freeze in confusion for a second. And that was all I needed. “Keep going!” I blurted to Eits, painting him orange for protection before running forward with him. I leapt, dropping Eits down to land sprawled out on the roof of one of his cars. He’d be fine.
As for me, I hurled myself upward, shooting a line of red paint right at the small vial still clutched in Cuélebre’s massive hand. The paint struck the vial, yanking it out of his grip as he made a sound of surprise. It flew into my waiting grasp, while I flew by just underneath the giant demon-man.
“Yoink!” I shouted at him, my terror mixing with my glee. Clutching the vial, I hit the next roof over, rolling and spinning to come up on one knee and one foot, facing back the way I had come.
Cuélebre was there, staring at me in flat disbelief mixed with clearly mounting rage.
“Hey, buddy,” I blurted, “don’t you know it’s rude to take things that don’t belong to you? I think you need a time-out!” With that, I sent a wave of white paint that hit his face before he could react, activating it for a blinding flash of light that left him reeling with a deafening roar of fury that shook the air and left me wishing I could call a timeout to piss my pants.
Instead, I used the brief moment that gave me to spin away and run. Escape. I had to lead Cuélebre away and escape. Pissed as he was right now, he’d be right on my tail. And I was pretty sure he wouldn’t stop at exchanging a few ugly words.
I ran, fleeing as fast as I could while activating paint on myself to keep going. All I could think about was the next step, the next jump, the next second of flying wildly through the air. Part of me expected to feel a lightning bolt go through me any instant. But no, he wanted the vial. He needed the vial, and wouldn’t risk destroying it, no matter how angry he was about me taking it from him.
At least, that’s what I hoped.
Sure enough, there was another roar, and chancing a quick glance back showed Cuélebre already hurling himself my way. He was closing the distance terrifyingly quickly, and I launched myself off the edge of the roof with a reflexive yelp of fear.
That time, instead of aiming for the next roof, I saw an open window partway up on an apartment building. There was a man standing there smoking and leaning out. He looked up at the last second, saw me flying toward him, and jerked backward, dropping the cigarette.
I went right through the open window hands first in a diving position, rolling as I hit the floor. “Stay down, stay down!” I blurted, already back up on my feet and running. Through the kitchen, the living room, a short hallway, I hit the front door, practically crashed through it while taking barely enough time to twist the knob, and found myself in the main hall of the building, apartment doors lining the walls along both sides. Without thinking about it, I spun to the right, toward the tall window at the end of the corridor. My hand snapped down, grabbing hold of a fire extinguisher, and I activated a spot of purple on what remained of my formerly intricate painted image. With a grunt, I hurled the extinguisher at the window, sending it through with a crash.
Cuélebre would hear it. He would know where I was. But I wanted him to. The last thing I wanted was to be responsible for him tearing his way through these people’s apartments trying to get me. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t in the building anymore.
Sure enough, even as I threw myself out the broken window and used a shot of red paint to yank myself toward a billboard in the distance, I could hear a rush of motion overhead. Cuélebre. He was diving toward me, so at the last second I cancelled the paint, spinning over on my back in mid-dive. Falling through the open air toward the hard street below, I forced myself to ignore just how very dead I would be if I hit it. Instead, I focused on the giant demon man coming after me. A shot of green, yes green, paint hit him while I activated yellow paint on myself.
My fall slowed, even as Cuélebre’s descent dramatically sped up. He shot past just barely ahead of me, his grasping hand missing while he blurted a violent curse. An instant later, he crashed into the street, sending up a huge spray of dirt, rocks, and concrete and knocking over a couple lamp posts.
Meanwhile, I used a new shot of red paint to yank my (now much slower-falling) body over to that billboard from before. Landing on it, I had time to glance down, seeing Cuélebre dragging himself out of the rather substantial crater he’d made in the middle of the street. Water was spraying from a broken hydrant, and I could see people fleeing down the sidewalks. But he wasn’t paying them any mind. Not that he was calm or collected. If anything, he was even more pissed off than before. But he didn’t care about the people running away from him. No, he was looking right up at me, eyes smoldering with hatred and promised retribution.
Right, time to leave. Really, really time to leave.
Spinning to throw myself off the billboard, I hit the next roof over already running. A new shot of green paint at my feet pushed my speed back up, as I sprinted flat-out for the edge of the building with Cuélebre’s angry bellow filling the air behind me. One step after another, vial clutched tightly in one hand while my ears listened intently to the rushing wind sound of the giant monster flapping his wings and launching himself upward after me with another shouted threat.
And here we went again. Me being chased through the city by a monster who could easily rip me apart if he managed to get hold of me. Was this getting repetitive yet? Because my heart didn’t think so, considering the way it was beating so hard it felt like it might jump out of my chest and take off without me.
Cuélebre dove. I leapt off the edge of the building, spiraling into a dive just as he landed right where I had just been. His massive hand lashed out, narrowly missing me as I plummeted toward the ground. Activating a bit of orange paint on my back, I forced myself to keep falling. Cuélebre had hurled himself down after me, but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice. That was okay, I had a different trick in mind.
The ground rushed up at me. Every instinct I had said to bail out. But I let myself keep falling, arms extended as if I was diving into water. Above and behind me was Cuélebre, just waiting for me to try to yank myself in any direction. He knew I’d have to, or I’d hit the ground. I had about five seconds from the time I leapt off the roof until… well, until it would be too late. With three seconds left, I pointed with my hand and fired off a spray of red paint. Just as Cuélebre expected. Only I wasn’t pulling myself anywhere. Instead, I shot the paint at a parked car. A thought brought the car off the ground, making the literal car come flying up toward me. Toward my red glove.
Two seconds left. I cut the connection with the car, but it kept coming, its momentum bringing it upward. The car was spinning end over end as it came, and I timed a shot of blue paint to hit the roof. It made one more full revolution just before impact. My outstretched hands hit the blue spot I’d made (the orange paint I’d activated earlier protecting me from breaking every bone in them as well as my arms), and I was instantly rocketed backwards and up.
Flying backwards, I shot right between Cuélebre’s arms as the man made a noise of surprise. An instant later, the car completed its next revolution and slammed into him. The sound of crunching metal and exploding glass filled the air, as well as an actual yelp of pain from the man. Apparently flying what amounted to face-first into a car didn’t do him any favors. Particularly after having flown face-first into the ground just before that.
But he wasn’t anywhere near down. A fact he made abundantly clear by lashing his tail up and back at me just as I was passing. I managed to snap my free hand out, catching hold of the tail while activating a spot of purple on my arm. My momentum made me spin around the tail like it was a pole in gymnastics, and I very nearly lost my grip. But I managed to hang on, spinning myself all the way around before releasing the tail to drop onto the flailing man’s back. Bending my knees like I was a surfer riding a very large, very unstable board, I found words blurting their way out of my mouth. “We keep meeting like this. Maybe we should schedule a nice dinner instead. It sounds less painful for you.”
Recovering from the brief second of being stunned by taking a car to the face, Cuélebre snarled a dark, “I’ll bring you dinner in the hospital, boy.” He said the last word like it was an insult, his tail already lashing in from the side in a clear attempt to knock me off his back (and likely into his waiting hand). But before it could hit, I flipped up and over, shooting a bit of yellow paint down to slow him while speeding myself up once more with green. That way, he didn’t completely leave me behind. His tail had barely cleared the spot just under me as I came down, landing on his back once more. A shot of red paint at the blade of the tail and another toward the man’s own back just as I cancelled the yellow jerked the tail that way and made the man literally stab himself.
“Chess game in the park, maybe?!” I blurted over the sound of his enraged bellow. While he was still recovering, yanking the blade of his tail free, I shot three more lines of red paint at the ground, and one at the man’s back. Then I hurled myself off him while shouting over my shoulder, “Call me, we’ll set something up!”
With that, I activated the paint. The man was yanked downward partway before stopping. Landing on the edge of a window balcony, I could see his enormous muscles straining, the man spitting curses and threats. He was managing to keep himself in the air against the pull of the paint, but only just.
Ten seconds, I had ten seconds where he’d be held or at least slowed down. I had to use them. One more shot of red paint took me to the next roof, and I activated my skates, landing easily on the wheels before pushing off. Green paint, green paint, green paint! I used it, launching myself across that roof as fast as I could go. Cuélebre’s pants-browning scream did a lot to make me forget about how tired I was, as I clutched the vial in my hand and pushed myself to keep moving.
Hitting the edge of the roof, I heard another bellow from Cuélebre. And then the first lightning bolt struck. It came from the sky, slamming into the roof about a dozen feet away from me. The power of it was enough to almost throw me forward, even as the resulting boom deafened me.
But Cuélebre wasn’t done. A second strike came an instant later, followed by a third. Each one progressively closer. The man couldn’t even see me yet, he was just hurling lightning in the direction he’d seen me go. He had completely lost his goddamn mind!
With a yelp, I threw myself off the roof. There wasn’t even time to make any blue paint or anything. I just had to leap, an instant before the next lightning strike hit the spot right where I had just been. It was an almost perfect shot from a guy who couldn’t even see me!
I was falling through the air, windmilling and screaming. A quick thought, almost entirely reflex, brought my hand up to point across the street. From the corner of my eye, I could see the fire escape in an alley between the two buildings. Red paint, please, please…
It went off, and I was yanked that way. Yanked that way… just as yet another bolt of lightning struck. This one came so close all I saw was a blinding light. Pain engulfed my body, as a scream tore its way out of my throat. At some point, I had instinctively activated every bit of orange left on my costume. But it still hurt. Oh God, did it ever hurt.
Everything came in a bit of a blurry, dazed rush then. I felt the air rushing past me. I felt myself hit the fire escape, slip off it, fall to land on top of the dumpster below, then roll off it to land on the ground. Barely conscious, I rolled over. It took absolutely everything I had, but the sound of Cuélebre approaching spurred me to move through the pain, through the desperate need to fall unconscious. I pushed myself and rolled under that dumpster. My helmet fell off in the process.
The demon man landed a moment later, hitting the street beyond before a chuckle escaped him. “No more wisecracks, little boy?” he demanded. “Why don’t you come out and invite me to dinner again?”
He didn’t know where I was. But he did know that I was somewhere in the area, and hurt. It wouldn’t take him long to narrow down the possibilities. I had to do something. I had to… to move… to… think. But my vision kept fading in and out, and the thought of moving made me whimper mostly silently. Everything hurt.
Then I heard it. Not Cuélebre. Another voice.
“I think you’ve done enough damage for one night.”
Silversmith. It was Silversmith. My dad. His voice was different from how I knew him, of course. But it was him. Turning my head a little, I could see the silver-armored man appear right in front of the giant demon, facing him down.
A month earlier, I would have been elated. That was Silversmith, my favorite hero in the whole world. And he was, knowingly or not, saving my life. Saving me. It would have been one of the most amazing moments in my life.
Now… now I knew the truth. I knew Silversmith was my father, and that he killed people. So mostly… mostly I was just confused about how I was supposed to feel right now. Confused, tired, sore, and trying very hard to stay conscious.
“I am not in the mood, Hero-Man,” Cuélebre growled in a dismissive voice. Even as he said it, I saw the slight spark on his tail appear. Then a bolt of lightning, aimed straight at my father, tore down from the sky.
It was intercepted by a large silver shield that appeared in the air. A similar (though smaller) shield appeared on my dad’s arm, along with a sword in his other hand as he calmly informed the Oscuro leader, “You’re about to be in a worse one.”
Cuélebre struck, lunging forward to swipe at my father. But just as he moved (thus negating his own invulnerability power that kicked in when he stood still), something slammed into him from behind. It was a truck. No, it was one of Silversmith’s constructs made to look like a truck. Either way, the shiny metal thing crashed into Cuélebre, just as Dad ducked and turned in one smooth motion. The giant demon man bellowed as he was hurled over Silversmith’s head and sent flying down the street and out of my line of sight.
The form of the truck broke apart an instant after impact, turning back into its default liquid metal form. Like a big ball of floating mercury, or the T1000 Terminator.
Silversmith, my dad, was already throwing himself up and backward. He crashed into his own liquid metal ball before stopping there as the stuff hardened and shaped itself around him. Soon, it didn’t look like a floating ball of liquid or a truck anymore. It had turned into what amounted to a battlesuit, armor as large as Cuélebre was. Silversmith was inside it.
Another bolt of lightning came, but the large shield that had blocked it the first time had already spun through the air to catch against Dad’s new armor’s arm, and he caught the bolt easily. Then he pushed off, disappearing from sight as he chased after his giant opponent.
They were gone. They were both gone. I was… I was safe? Safe, right. Sure. Safe here in my hiding place.
I was hiding again. Just as I had on that first night, back when I had found out about my brother, about my family. After everything that had happened, there I was, lying under a dumpster and hiding again.
It was too much. With the immediate danger gone, all I could do was lay there listening to the fighting between Cuélebre and my father as it faded into the distance. My eyes blinked a few times, straining to keep myself awake. I had to keep going, I had to… to use this chance to get out of here before something happened. Stay awake… Stay awake, damn it, stay…
I passed out.
The voice dragged me back to consciousness. As my eyes blinked blearily open, I felt every muscle in my body protest even that movement. Groaning, I turned my head, reaching down to pull the helmet up with one hand before shoving it onto my head. Unfortunately, the view was… distorted, cracked.
The visor of the helmet. It was shattered in a couple places. As I pushed myself out from under the dumpster with another groan, my hand moved to push the helmet off once more. Something was in my other hand. I looked down. The vial. It was still there, still intact by some miracle. I’d held onto it through all of that.
“Paintball!” It was Eits, frantically calling my name as he came around the corner. When he saw me, he made a noise of relief. “Oh God, there you are! Are you okay? I was following in one of the cars. I saw you go down somewhere over here but I couldn’t get close until Silversmith chased the big guy off. He–he’s gone now. They’re gone. But you… are you…”
“I’m okay,” I muttered, shaking off the lingering daze as much as I could. It hurt, everything hurt. And my ears were still ringing. But I was alive. “I’m okay, and I’ve got the vial. It’s–” Blinking up at the boy to find him staring at me in what looked like total shock, I hesitated. “What… what’s wrong? I–”
Wait. Wait. What was wrong with my voice? It was– wait. My free hand found my phone. It was heavily damaged, the screen partially crushed, with random lines and colors across the cracked screen. Which meant my voice changer was gone. Which meant–
“Oh my God,” Eits stammered.
“You’re a girl!”