Like a pair of very enthusiastic stones (Herbie’s sisters maybe), Miranda and I fell through the air after leaping off the roof of the casino hotel. The wind rushed past me as I centered my gaze on the car that was pulling away with our target inside. My fingers tightened around my staff, and I reached my other hand out to catch onto Miranda’s. Here went nothing.
Jerking the staff horizontal above my head, I triggered the boost. Now instead of falling straight down, Miranda and I were falling at an angle toward the departing SUV. And the cars that were escorting it. Yeah, there seemed to be two in front and three behind. All of them black with obvious armor paneling and deeply tinted windows. It was like this guy was the president or something.
And Miranda and I were still falling. Falling with style, but still falling. As many powers as I had picked up over the past year, I didn’t actually have one that would let me survive pancaking against the ground from that high up. Luckily, I had other things.
Gripping Miranda by the hand tightly, I swung my arm forward as we fell, throwing the girl ahead of me. Then I inverted the staff. It was out of energy by then, but I had a trick. Namely, a spell that Jophiel had taught me. With a thought, I used my image inscription power to create the rune on my staff and triggered it. Instantly the staff was back to full charge. I couldn’t do that too many times in a row, because it drained me to do it. But it was still a handy trick at a time like this.
With my staff newly recharged, I pointed the end down while triggering a series of short, measured bursts to slow my descent. Using every last bit of energy that I had just given it, I slowed my fall just enough to drop onto the roof of the rear-most SUV without killing myself. I rolled with the impact, nearly going right off the front of the damn thing before catching myself, sprawled out across the top. The vehicle was armored enough that my impact didn’t even dent it.
The second I came down on the roof with a loud clatter, I heard shouting from inside. Apparently my loud crash landing hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Meanwhile, Miranda was on the roof of the next car forward. She had simply created a duplicate of herself while falling, one that didn’t have all that momentum. The duplicate had appeared on the roof of that vehicle before the one who was falling simply disappeared before impact. Now she was up there and I was back here. And neither of us were on the vehicle we actually needed. We’d have to fix that.
First, I had to deal with the guys in this vehicle. Apparently they had decided that having a hitchhiker on their roof wasn’t a good idea. They expressed this dislike by electrifying the entire damn vehicle. Fortunately, while it didn’t exactly tickle, my combination of pain resistance and electricity resistance meant that it didn’t do much more than make me grunt. It wasn’t super fun, but definitely didn’t have the impact they wanted.
Next, they started swerving from side to side. We were out of the casino parking lot by then and pulling onto the street with a squeal of protesting tires as they swept the back end of the vehicle to the left. Rather than just let myself be flung off, however, I sent my staff back to its spot on my belt with a thought and focused on my fingernails. They grew a couple inches and became as hard as steel. Quickly, I used my strength to drive them into the hard metal of the car roof, clinging tightly to it as the vehicle swung back-and-forth trying to dislodge me. On either side, I could see other cars with drivers and passengers alike pointing and staring. I had no idea what they thought was going on here or what the Bystander Effect would let them retain. Right now, my attention was a little diverted.
Namely, it was diverted by the semi-translucent man who floated up through the roof and stood there right behind me. He had a gun in one hand, solidifying before pointing it my way to pull the trigger. But I’d already put a portal up with one hand, sending the bullet right back at the guy from behind. He twisted, but it still grazed his shoulder. By that point, I had rolled back to my feet. With him up here, the vehicle wasn’t swinging around quite so much. It still did a little bit, but my enhanced sense of balance coped with it without much input from me.
Focusing on the guy in front of me, I swung my staff after calling it back to my hand, but the man simply turned intangible so the weapon passed through him. Then he punched me in the face. I staggered back a step from the impact, and the car suddenly swung wildly to the left, nearly plowing into a sedan that got too close. They were trying to throw me off, but once again, my enhanced balance kicked in and I compensated before snapping my staff back the other direction. Again, the man went intangible and I whiffed, damn it. That time, I snapped my head to the side before he could punch me. Ghost-fire, I needed ghost-fire. Having Triss here would’ve been really useful, considering she could ignite her claws with it.
But I didn’t have her. What I did have, however, was a few really good teachers and a paranoid older brother who repeatedly drilled into my head that I had to be prepared for any situation. So, as the guy in front of me flashed a brief grin about my attacks totally whiffing, I moved my thumb to a small, prepared symbol on one spot of the staff. As I muttered the command word, the weapon in my hand turned semi-translucent. I could still feel it, but it was nearly invisible. My opponent’s eyes snapped down that way, just in time for me to smack him right in his intangible chin with the shaft. That time, it connected, and he staggered back a step. Before he could recover, I reversed my grip on the staff and drove it right through his chest with a quick, hard thrust. He doubled over, and I pivoted while snapping my leg out in a kick that sent the man off my staff. And off the vehicle entirely. His body bounced and rolled along the pavement.
Dropping back down to my knees while grabbing onto the metal roof, I focused on ignoring the rush of pleasure that shot through me. Turned out that the fear of falling off a speeding vehicle was a pretty good motivator for that.
Also a pretty good motivator? The guy who showed up on the back of a motorcycle and jumped onto the roof with me (there was another driver on the motorcycle that he’d left). He had an uzi or something like that in one hand, but as he aimed it my way, I shoved myself up with both hands, kicking out with one foot from my prone position. I was too far away to hit the guy… but not with portals! In mid-kick, I summoned one right in front of my foot, so that it came out to hit the guy in the side of his wrist. The gun went off, sending a spray of bullets just past my ear, while I yanked my foot back out of the portal and dismissed it, rolling backward and to my feet before the man could correct his aim. Without a word, I snapped my hand out, summoning a small coin that I’d already enchanted. The coin flipped through the air before exploding into a flash-bang. Yeah, basically the first spell I’d ever learned. Sometimes the classics were the best. And I’d learned to make my particular flash-bangs a lot… flashier.
While the man was still staggering from the blinding light in his eyes, I added to his problems by summoning a gel ball of nauseating liquid that flew right into face.
He threw his arms up defensively, but it was too late. The ball of liquid had exploded, leaving the man retching and coughing. He stumbled a bit, clearly completely out of it, and I just waited for a second to see the best opening before giving a quick, sharp swipe of the staff, cutting through his throat with the bladed end.
Rather than just letting his rapidly dying body fall, I took two quick steps that way, kicking out to send him flying right back to the motorcycle that had dropped him off. He crashed into the driver, knocking him off and sending the vehicle clattering along the ground.
Okay, that was just about enough of playing around up here. After waiting for that wave of pleasure to pass, I spun back toward the front of the vehicle. With one hand, I created a small portal in front of myself, with the other end ahead and to the left. Timing things just right, I triggered the kinetic-mine laying part of the staff, setting it to use all the energy it had accumulated before hurling it through the portal. It came out the other end flying back toward the vehicle. Specifically, toward the front left tire. Even as the staff hit the tire and deposited the mine, I was already sprinting forward. I ran down the windshield while the men inside shouted. With a thought, I summoned my weapon back to one hand and triggered the explosive while hurling myself forward off the hood. The speeding vehicle’s momentum was instantly halted as it was flipped up and backward behind me, ending up skidding to the side on its roof with a shower of sparks. Like the motorcycle a moment earlier, but bigger.
Meanwhile, I was left leaping through the air just above the street with the next vehicle too far ahead to land on. I had momentum from being on top of the other car, but it was fading fast and the one ahead of me was pulling away. Nor did I have the speed to catch up with it on foot. At least, not in this form…
With a thought, I triggered my Seosten-absorbed boost. As the world around me seemed to slow down, I did two things simultaneously. First, I sent my outer clothes into the little compartment inside the tiny (on the outside anyway) pocket of the Seosten bodysuit that I was wearing under them. Second, I focused on shifting my body into a very different shape.
With the help of the boost, the change only took a moment and by the time I landed on the pavement, I was in full werelion form. The impact barely registered, and I was already running at top speed. Which, for me in that form with all my enhancements was around sixty miles an hour. Add in the boost and I could kick it up to about eighty in very short bursts. Which I did, hurling my lion self after the next car in a rush of tawny fur.
There were two Mirandas on the roof, dealing with another guy. From the look of the body that I went sprinting past, he wasn’t the first guy they’d faced. As I closed the distance, my mouth opened and I let out the loudest, most terrifying roar I could.
That got his attention. The man’s gaze snapped over his shoulder toward me just as both Mirandas drove their shields into his stomach and the back of his neck respectively. They turned in unison, throwing the man off the vehicle to the road, where he bounced and tumbled before coming to a stop at an odd angle. He wouldn’t be getting up again, a fact proven as a pair of glowing auras appeared around my friend’s twin bodies.
Horns were honking all around us. I could see people leaning out of their cars with phones up to record… whatever it was they thought they were seeing. Would the Bystander Effect allow them to see a lion chasing a car at eighty miles an hour while identical twins fought people on top of said car? I was going to guess it would probably… adjust some of that just a little bit.
Speaking of running eighty miles an hour, before my boost wore off, I gave a short roar of warning toward Miranda. Then I lunged and swiped a single massive paw toward the left rear tire with my dagger-like claws extended. The claws ripped right through not only the tire, but the entire wheel and its housing. The whole thing broke right off, and that end of the car slammed down onto the pavement, throwing up a shower of sparks along with the sound of screaming, tortured metal. It spun out toward the left with the broken wheel as a pivot point, sliding just out of my way as I ran straight past. Miranda (only one of her was visible at the moment) leapt off to the right, landing on top of a nearby bus.
Unfortunately, the thing kept spinning around while continuing down the freeway at breakneck speed. Which meant it was coming back around behind me just as the driver overcompensated, losing control so that it flipped over onto its side and tumbled end over end along the freeway right at my back. Like the boulder that chased Indiana Jones, only a big SUV version.
But I had my item sense power, so I knew exactly where it was and how it was positioned without looking. I kept running, waiting for the car’s insane momentum to carry it closer. At the last possible second, as the partially crumpled vehicle’s latest bounce along the road carried it right above my head at a sideways slant, I acted by… shifting back into my human shape. My staff was in my hand already at a thought, and I triggered the blast from it straight down while still in mid-lunge from my lion form.
The staff boost shot me straight up into the air, where I passed perfectly through the shattered window of the passenger’s side of the vehicle and into the car itself while it was in mid-tumble. The occupants were taken completely by surprise as I passed through their compartment and toward the opposite window before they could think about reacting. On the way, I threw a handful of nauseating liquid at them. Because what the people in this car that was bouncing and tumbling along the freeway at high speed needed was more help being sick.
As I shot through the driver’s side rear window, the vehicle hit the ground beneath me with a terrifying crash. In mid-air, I shifted back into my lion form, landing on the car’s side to knock it fully onto its hood, then lunged off it and kept running. Miranda, who was still on that bus, jumped free before landing on my back. And we were off. One vehicle still stood between us and the one our new friend Sarez was on. Aaand that one vehicle was shooting at us. Bullets were spraying our way, tearing up the ground around my feet. A couple hit home, but between the adrenaline and general werelion toughness, I didn’t care all that much. They weren’t silver or anything. They were just annoying.
Then I saw some kind of large gray and black cannon-rifle stick out the back window. The end of the barrel was several inches wide. Okay, that one might be a little more dangerous.
Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. I had Miranda riding on my back, and she immediately leaned forward, holding her shield up. A glowing forcefield was projected from it, appearing in front of me and moving along with us as I ran. The energy shield manifested just as the big gun fired a shot that bounced right off it with a deafening boom. Two more shots came in quick succession, each equally blocked. The shield was holding, for the moment. But I could see it flicker just a tiny bit under each of those powerful shots. This couldn’t hold up forever. Worse, I couldn’t boost anymore right then. I needed a break before I’d be able to do it again for anything more than the second it took to shift forms. And the cars ahead of us were already pulling away. I could do fifty to sixty without boosting, but eighty to ninety? Forget about it. And those guys were hauling ass. For some reason, they didn’t want to stay and talk to us. Weird.
Luckily, Miranda was already on it. After deflecting a couple more shots, she lowered the shield, took a breath, and screamed. Her scream was loud for me. Painfully loud, really. But it was a lot worse for the guy sticking the gun out the back of that car. I saw him drop back in the vehicle, rifle falling from his hands to bounce along the ground as the sheer force of the sonic attack knocked him onto his ass and shattered all the windows in that SUV.
With the gun out of the way, Miranda reared back and hurled her actual physical shield. It flew through the air, passing through the broken windshield and into the vehicle itself. A second later, a new Miranda appeared where the shield was. Apparently Miranda had figured out how to make duplicates appear not only around her, but also at her shield’s location even if it wasn’t with her. Useful.
There was a brief scuffle before the driver of the SUV and one other guy went tumbling out. The Miranda in the vehicle slowed down just a bit, allowing her other self and me to catch up. As we got there, my Miranda leapt up onto the back of the car, and I jumped as well, shifting into my human self in mid-lunge before landing in a crouch beside my best friend.
The Miranda inside the car hit the gas, and we were off once more. The SUV directly ahead of us was the one that had Sarez. I could see the guy sitting in the backseat looking over his shoulder at us. His gaze met mine, and he said something to the driver.
Faster. He told the guy to go faster.
We sped up too. Miranda and I crouched, watching the car ahead of us intently ahead as it weaved in and out of traffic. One of the leading SUVs pulled to the side and slowed down to let us catch up, clearly intent on blocking for Sarez’s vehicle. The windows went down, and several guns opened fire. But Miranda had already taken the shield from her duplicate down below, passed up to her through the window. As the shots came from the car pulling alongside us, she summoned another forcefield on that side, catching the incoming bullets.
The other car that had been ahead of Sarez pulled back as well, on the opposite side. They were each flanking us, taking shots while trying to give the man himself time to get away in his own vehicle.
Miranda and I looked to one another, each nodding before she used her shield to create a forcefield on either side of us, protection from both vehicles. As the hail of gunfire tore into those shields, I knew they wouldn’t last long. But they didn’t have to. They only had to last for a few seconds.
While the shields flickered and sputtered, I raised one hand. Triggering the button on my staff, I sent a cloud of sand out of the tiny portal at one end. The sand formed up into a ball around my raised fist, turning white-hot after a few brief seconds of concentration. Then it split off into two small clouds, each flying in opposite directions. The clouds of sand, giving off enough heat to melt through metal, collided with the tires of the vehicles. With an explosion of sound that was even louder than all that gunfire, they were both taken out of the chase, spinning off to either side.
One left. Sarez’s car. And we were catching up. He was clearly desperate to escape, his driver taking absurd risks as he cut in and out of different lanes, slamming the SUV into cars here and there in his rush. But the driving Miranda was keeping up, swerving around the bits of debris and entirely stopped cars that the other vehicle left in its wake. We were getting closer and closer.
Miranda saw it first. “Portal!” she shouted, pointing ahead to a glowing green shimmering square that the SUV was driving straight toward. “He’s going for the portal!”
“Oh, fuck no,” I blurted. “Sonic that window!” With that, I took a few running steps forward, triggering almost the entire store of energy in my staff into a single boost. It launched me up and forward, rocketing me through the air. In mid-flight, I flipped over, looking down and forward toward the back of the SUV. It was almost at the portal, almost there…
Right on cue, Miranda’s sonic scream filled the air, shattering the SUV’s back window. The instant she did, while I was still in freefall from launching myself, I launched the grapple from my staff. It shot that way, and straight into the now-exposed vehicle.
“No… you… don’t!” I snapped in mid-fall, as my grappling hook slammed into Sarez’s shoulder. The man cried out in surprise and pain, as I dropped toward the ground. The energy cord that connected the grapple to my staff went taut, and started to yank me that way. But I triggered the last of the energy in the staff in the opposite direction. Instead of yanking me around with him, Sarez was hauled backward out of his ride an instant before it vanished through that portal. The man hit the ground and tumbled wildly.
I, meanwhile, shifted back into my lion form one more time. I still landed hard, but the lion could take it. My lion body basically rolled with it, bruises and pain exploding everywhere until I finally sprawled to a stop on my side. The motion finally stopped and I… I just needed to nap for a–
“Flick!” Miranda was there, or one of her was. She’d stopped the car and was crouched beside me. “Flick, are you okay?!”
Realizing that at some point while half-conscious, I’d shifted back to my normal self, I groggily opened my eyes. “Hmmm…? Umm.. uhh…” Blinking a few times, I sat up, groaning a little. Yeah, that hurt. Blinking around, I could see other cars stopping, people jumping out to come find out what the hell was going on. “Did… did we win?”
The Miranda above me turned a bit to gesture toward the nearby buildings. “He ran off. I’ve got a few me’s looking for him. We already broke his teleport toys, so he’s on foot. And the others’ll be here any second. He won’t get far.”
While she was talking, I reached down to touch my staff. Gus, still in his grapple form, was covered in blood. Sarez’s blood. My fingers brushed through it, and I focused on the Harpy’s blood-tracking power I’d gained so long ago, back on the Meregan world.
Instantly, I knew the truth. With a nod, I murmured, “Yeah, he won’t get far.”
Then I turned, rising to stab the Jaq-blade end of my staff right into the space beside Miranda. There was a grunt of surprise, before Sarez himself appeared, his invisibility spell fading. An invisibility spell that had shielded him from my item sense, but not my blood tracking power. The blade was through his other shoulder, and he collapsed to the ground as I gave him a shove that way.
“Not very far at all,” I finished, as Miranda finished jumping in surprise.
Laying on the ground, the man gave a dark chuckle. A bitter, angry chuckle. “You think this is over? You think you won? Girls, if you want to save the children and the vampire, you’re going to have to go get them.