Why Paige? Of all the people in the entire universe I had to be saving, why Paige Banners?
Okay, she didn’t deserve to die. That was true. As much as I didn’t like her, as much of a bitch as she had always been to me, she definitely didn’t actually deserve to die. But still. Why did I have to be the one to save her, considering all the effort she’d put into mocking and belittling me?
Yeah, it was childish. Definitely. No question. And I was absolutely going to save her, no matter my own personal feelings. But that didn’t stop the grumbling in the back of my head, along with a lot of questions revolving around what the hell she could know about my family’s business that made her such a pressing target for being killed? Executed, really, by a literal British diplomat.
There were a lot of things going on here that I didn’t understand. That much was obvious. And I probably wasn’t going to get any answers to those things unless I could get over myself and save the girl who had loudly and vocally hated me since we were in middle school. So… yay.
But, oh well. I was going to save her even if the thought of doing so made me want to grind my teeth down into powder. No way was I going to let Paige get shot in the head by one of my parents’ secret evil minions just because she was a bitch to me. I wasn’t a psychopath.
That said, I still had to do this right. It wouldn’t exactly do either of us any good if I showed myself and then immediately got mowed down by all of Mr. Jackson’s armed security escorts.
Speaking of Mr. Jackson, he was raising the pistol in his hand, pointing it at the clearly sobbing girl, who was frantically pleading with him through the gag in her mouth. He looked regretful, but not regretful enough to stop or even reconsider. This whole thing was happening right now, no more time for thinking.
Moving quickly, I shot a glob of red paint over the raised pistol. At the same time, I shot another bit of red at the ground several yards past where the group was, further up the pier. Even as Mr. Jackson and the other guys with him were reacting to his gun being painted, I activated it, instantly yanking the gun from his grip and sending it to that spot behind them with a soft clapping sound from the silenced weapon firing off (hopefully harmlessly) into the woods.
But I didn’t leave it at that, of course. Even as the gun was flying through the air to land on the ground, my hand was already snapping over to fire another shot of red to the van itself. Activating that with a thought connected it to the red paint already on the pier. The van was yanked off the ground and sent tumbling side over side right toward the clustered trio of armed security guys who had just pivoted to face my direction. Two of them dove out of the way, one dropping his gun in the process. The third was hit by the van, crying out as he was knocked off the pier into the water. Mr. Jackson and Paige were both missed entirely, the van settling into a badly damaged heap on its roof just a couple feet from where the two were still standing, frozen.
Target, target. I had to give them another target. A more important and immediate target. To that end, I used blue paint under my feet to launch myself up and out, turning over in a somersault in the air before landing right in front of the two men who had dived out of the way. They were just picking themselves up when I caught each of them by an arm. Painting a small image of a muscular man flexing his biceps on my chest in purple, I used the strength boost to haul them off the ground before turning and hurling them off into the water near where their friend had gone. They went flying off, screaming in the process as their guns clattered to the dirt.
So yeah, two seconds in and all three normal guys were… well, not dealt with, but at least delayed and disarmed for the moment. It would take them time to get out of the water. But that wasn’t the main problem. Mr. Jackson was. He had some kind of power that I knew nothing about. It could’ve been anything. Except he’d said that it ‘didn’t work’ on Paige, so I was assuming it wasn’t super strength or healing or anything like that. It was something else.
But I really wasn’t in the mood to find out what that something was the hard way. Mr. Jackson was still, understandably, trying to react to his gun being yanked from his hand, then a van flying in out of nowhere to nearly run him over, and then a couple of his men being thrown over his head out into the water. It was a lot to take in over just a brief handful of seconds when he’d had no idea anyone else was even out here. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to give him time to recover. So, while the strength boost was still active, I pivoted, snatching one of the dropped guns off the ground before hurling it that way. He snapped an arm up to block it reflexively, but still staggered backward with a cry, and I heard the crack of bone where the pistol hit him.
By that point, I had already used one more shot of red paint. This one, however, was aimed at Paige. With a startled scream, she was hauled off her feet and flung back toward my outstretched red gloves. The girl collided with me, and I stumbled a little before catching myself. A quick glance back the other way showed the men already recovering and clambering out of the water. Mr. Jackson was starting to move toward grab the gun that I’d hit him with, and there was a lot of shouting. Yeah, this whole situation was about to be really bad, really quick.
But I couldn’t just let the guys here, or (more importantly) my parents wonder how Paintball could possibly have found out about this. Remembering what the guy a few moments earlier had said, I quickly used red paint to yank the gun away from Mr. Jackson and tossed it while taunting him with a quick, “You should tell your minions to be more subtle when they grab someone. Or at least pay attention when they’re being followed!”
Painting my gloves purple for strength then, I grabbed the handcuff chain with both hands and ripped it apart. Luckily, they hadn’t bothered using staydown cuffs. These were the normal, old-fashioned kind. So I was able to easily break them before pointing into the woods. “Run!”
Rather than doing what I told her to, Paige stared at me and yelled something that was muffled by the gag. Her hands reached up to try to undo the gag, and only then did I notice that it had some kind of complicated buckle system that made it hard to undo by yourself.
“Just go!” I shot a bit of green paint at her stomach and gave the girl a push. “I’ll be right beh–” That was as far as I got before catching sight of Mr. Jackson pointing some other gun he’d grabbed. Quickly, I painted an orange hand flipping him off on my back, spinning around to grab Paige and yank her out of the way. A few quiet gunshots filled the air, and I felt them ricochet off my back, stinging a bit. Paige was screaming again. That time when I pushed her, she ran. Fucking finally.
As soon as the girl disappeared into the treeline, I shot a wide spray of red paint all along the wooded ground just past the edge of the parking lot in front of me. Then I spun and dropped to one knee. The other men had retrieved their guns, or produced new ones, and were all taking aim. But before they could start firing, I shot another spray of red that way, coating them and Mr. Jackson. Then I connected the paints and sent a cloud of random ground debris right into their faces. Dozens of tiny pebbles, twigs, leaves, dirt, and more were sent flying that way while they recoiled and cried out.
But we weren’t out of the woods yet. Well, technically I wasn’t even in the woods yet. The point was, there were more bad guys coming. Like, a lot more. I heard loud engines and my eyes snapped that way in time to see a couple more vans speeding along the road toward us. Shit, shit, shit. Time to go! To that end, I quickly painted green lightning bolts on my legs and used the extra speed to sprint off into the trees, while the new cars were still skidding to a stop and Mr. Jackson and his guys were recovering from having a bunch of debris thrown in their faces.
Racing through the trees with my enhanced speed, I quickly caught up with the stumbling Paige. As soon as I was within sight of her, I activated the paint I’d shot her with earlier and she was suddenly moving faster. Apparently it was enough of a surprise that she nearly fell on her face. Which totally wasn’t my intention. Not consciously anyway. Before she could fall, I reached out to grab her arm. She jumped and spun with her fist up, before freezing upon seeing who it was.
“You’re faster now, so use it and keep running!” Without thinking about it, I reached out and caught her by the hand. In most situations, I would sooner have picked up a hissing and spitting venomous snake. But this wasn’t a normal time. Her hand clutched onto mine with what felt like desperation and we ran together through the forested area. Behind us, we could both hear more gunshots clipping the trees around us while men shouted and car engine started back up. They were going to try to cut us off. And, considering I had no idea where we were going or what was around, they could probably pull it off. They clearly knew this area better than I did. The headstart and my powers were our only advantage, and even those wouldn’t be worth much if we were stupid about this whole thing. With numbers and weapons they could beat my powers, and if we just ran right to them, the headstart wouldn’t matter.
Just as I was thinking that, I felt a tug at my arm. Paige was trying to lead me into running to the left, deeper into the wooded area rather than straight through. Apparently she’d had the exact same thought about being cut off. Smothering my instinctive urge to disagree with whatever she thought, I nodded, and the two of us started running that way instead. The speed boost had run out by that point, but I didn’t trigger another one, not yet at least. I wanted to save some paint and let it recharge a little bit.
Also, I needed to save some to do things like what I did when the sound of approaching footsteps chasing us got closer. Pointing my free hand down, I shot a puddle of blue just ahead of us. We ran onward, and Paige gave me what was obviously a confused look. But she got it a second later, as the sound of running footsteps was interrupted by a quick, short scream and a crack as our nearest pursuer was launched upward to crash into a low tree branch.
Continuing on, I used a few more traps to slow down our pursuers. There were a couple blue puddles that I activated as we passed them, and a long line of yellow paint that would slow down anyone who happened to step in it. Given it was pretty dark out here, the guys behind us had to slow down a good bit to watch the ground. Which was a good chance for us to extend our lead. I did that repeatedly, enough to hit a few more guys and keep the rest nervous.
Unfortunately, the fact it was dark also affected us. Neither Paige, nor I could see very well, and we kept stumbling over various roots and shit, almost spraining our ankles, or worse, a few times. I was pretty sure she didn’t know where we were going any better than I did. We were just intent on getting away from all the guys with guns.
Just ahead of us was a really big tree with a long, crooked branch growing out above the path we were on. A bit to the left was a steep hill. Seeing that, I pulled my hand free from the other girl’s and painted my arm purple for wrapping it around her. “Grab on,” I snapped quickly. I barely gave the taller girl time to put both arms quickly around my neck before using my other hand to shoot red toward the tall branch while we were still running. It yanked us upward, and I switched to a shot of blue to coat that same branch while releasing the red once we had momentum. Tightly clutching the girl I never would have willingly touched with a ten-foot pole in almost any other situation, I sent us flying to that blue spot on the branch, which launched us even higher when we landed on it. The two of us were hurled into the air, and I used the momentum and height to carry us over, landing on top of that high, steep hill.
Flashlight beams were already cutting through the trees, and we could hear footsteps and loud voices. Paige started to move, but I use the remaining strength boost to yank her down while dropping myself. Painting myself black, I did the same to her, shooting black to silence her while holding my hand in front of the visor in a shushing motion.
Thank fuck, she seemed to get the point and laid completely still. We pressed ourselves against the ground, watching just over the edge of that hill toward the path we’d just been running along. The men were right behind us. I could see Mr. Jackson in the lead, an assault rifle in his hands by that point as he snapped orders to his subordinates and kept moving. Just as he reached the spot directly below us, he stopped and looked around. Quickly, Paige and I ducked back. But we could hear his voice as he spoke.
“Alpha and Beta, keep moving along the streets. I want a full canvas, they don’t get back into the city. Delta and Epsilon, spread out and do a tree by tree search from here all the way to the waterline. Flush them out, whatever it takes. You find anything, you let everyone know. Gamma, come in from the west side and meet us in the middle. Where’s that helicopter? Get it out here right now. And keep blocking those cell signals.”
Oh great, they were bringing in a helicopter too. That was just fantastic. Paige and I definitely had to get out of here before that thing became an issue. And, apparently, we had to do it by getting past a whole lot more bad guys than I’d even thought. There was some other group coming in from the same direction we had been moving originally. This was just great. Not to mention, I apparently couldn’t call out for help either. Not that I was sure who I would call that could actually get out here quickly, but still. Maybe the Minority would have helped. And wouldn’t it have been fun to try to explain to Tomas why his dad was arrested by the local teen superheroes?
The men below us had moved on by then, but they were still close, spreading out to look through the trees for where we could have gone. As I was thinking about what to do, Paige shook my shoulder. She was pointing at the gag in her mouth and making emphatic, yet quiet, noises. Apparently, she really wanted it out.
I thought about leaving it in, to be honest. This was the most I’d ever been able to stand being around the other girl, and it had everything to do with the fact that she couldn’t say anything. It seemed like a shame to throw that away and let her start talking again.
Okay, that was bad. But seriously, she was not a nice person. At least not to me.
But, somewhat reluctantly, I used both hands to unclip the buckle, fumbling with it a little bit before pulling the gag out of her mouth.
She took a few seconds then, opening and shutting her mouth and making very soft gagging noises as she worked her jaw. Finally, the girl spoke. To her credit, she kept her voice very low, a whisper that barely reached my ears.
“The water,” she murmured. “I know this area. There’s a boat we can use on the water. It’s not that far from here. I think we can make it with your paint stuff.”
Okay, apparently I’d been wrong when I assumed she didn’t know anything about this area. Hesitating slightly, I whispered back, “Are you sure?”
If she’d known it was me, Paige would have had a scathing remark then. Instead, she just gave a quick nod. “Trust me, I don’t want to be found by those guys any more than you do. They were about to kill me.”
So, I nodded back to her. “Let’s go.”
With one more glance around to make sure we were clear for the moment, the two of us carefully stood up and started moving back toward the water. Before we’d gone more than a couple steps, however I felt Paige’s hand catch my arm. “Hey…”
Blinking, I turned that way, just in time for her to suddenly hug me tightly. I made a noise of surprise, as the girl who had hated me since we’d met and who had gone out of her way to belittle and insult me every chance she got suddenly embraced me.
“Thanks,” she whispered. “Like I said, those…those guys were gonna kill me. Thank you. Thank you. I can’t… I…” I could hear the lump in her throat, could feel the way her fear made her entire body shake along with her voice. “You are seriously the most awesome person in the world.”
Yup, it was official.
This was the most fucked up night of my life.