With the deafening roar of a powerful engine revving to its greatest heights, and the squeal of protesting tires, a sleek silver and red semi-truck with attached trailer went screaming around the corner of an intersection. Several people who had been moving through the crosswalk were forced to jump out of the way, and the one who didn’t quite look up in time was hit by a blob of red paint before being yanked toward a nearby building with a matching splotch just before he would have been run down.
That was me, of course. Err, not the man or the truck that almost ran him over. The red paint came from my outstretched hand, just before I landed on top of the semi’s trailer. A bit of red paint against the bottom of my shoes helped keep me locked to it, even as I dropped into a crouch and looked back the way I had come after leaping from the nearby building in the midst of chasing this damn truck.
Instantly, I saw her. Angel Dust, one of the Easy Eights’ lieutenants. She came flying around the corner, looking like some sort of warrior angel. She wore glowing crimson and bronze Roman-style armor with broad angelic wings, a halo, and a massive sword that looked like it was almost as tall as the woman herself. Her face was covered by an ornate crimson helmet with a bronze metal mask. And yes, all of that, wings, halo, helmet, everything, was glowing.
That was her power. She generated this stuff that she called pixie dust. For her, it turned into her weapons, her armor, even wings that actually let her fly. Meanwhile, for everyone else, it… did a lot of different things, depending on what color dust she used. Some colors made people strong, or boosted their speed, or made them brave/afraid, made them sick, made their powers stronger temporarily, and so on and so forth.
So yeah, she was similar to me in some regards. Different color stuff had different effects. I was actually a little surprised it had taken this long for me to have an encounter with her. But what an encounter it was turning out to be. If I survived the next few minutes with all my limbs intact, I was definitely going to put some research to find out more about this chick. Like any weaknesses, that would definitely be the first thing I googled. I would have done it right then, but I had the feeling she wouldn’t accept any request for a quick five minute time-out.
Sure enough, even as my gaze found the incoming winged-figure as she flew into view, she was already throwing her hand out to send a cloud of sickly green dust toward me. At least that one I knew. That was the one that made people nauseous. I’d had an up-close look at the effect mere minutes earlier when Alloy had been unfortunate enough to be hit by it. That was why she wasn’t here with me right this second. Hopefully, she would catch up once she managed to pull herself together. I really wasn’t going to fault her for needing to catch her breath. And maybe grab a bit of water to rinse her mouth out.
Either way, for the moment, I was on my own. Which meant I really couldn’t risk being hit by the sick dust myself. I had no desire to throw up inside my helmet, and less desire to let this truck get away.
Hold on. No, reverse those. Maybe it was unfair, but I was pretty sure I would rather have let the bad guys escape with this truck than throw up in my helmet. That just sounded unbelievably gross. As I was sure Alloy would agree.
The second I saw the incoming dust, I was already launching myself up and sideways off the moving truck with some blue paint. In mid-air, I snapped the command to make the wheels pop out of my Wren-provided pace-skates. And thanks to that whole Wren bit, I was abruptly skating along the side of the nearby building. Without missing a beat, I took off, skating sideways while Angel Dust adjusted her aim. But that time it wasn’t the sick-making light green dust she sent toward me. Instead, a bright, almost painfully neon red dust came rushing through the air. It was clearly aimed at the spot where I would be in an instant, so I did the best thing I could think of at that moment. I used yellow paint on myself to arrest my momentum. Abruptly, I was going half as fast as I had been an instant earlier. So that neon red dust hit the side of the building in front of me. It immediately transformed into this sticky gooey stuff, like thick tar. Yeah, if I had been hit by that, I wouldn’t be going anywhere very fast.
Canceling the yellow paint’s effect, I snapped my hand out and shot red paint toward a traffic light in the distance, using a mixture of that and another bit of blue to throw myself off the wall. As soon as I had momentum in that direction, I canceled the red paint too, flipping through the air before landing on top of a raised billboard. At the end of the next block, the truck was already starting to turn another corner. Meanwhile, Angel Dust was swooping in close. The air around her was filled with a mixture of the light green sick dust and the neon red tar dust. It didn’t affect her at all, simply swirling around in a rapid cloud. If I let her get close to me and actually engaged in any sort of melee combat, it would last about half a second before I would be trapped by what was essentially a giant wad of used gum, throwing up the last four meals I’d had.
Needless to say, that didn’t exactly sound like a good time to me. So, I made sure I wasn’t there for her to get close to. Activating long green lightning bolts that I had put along both legs to speed myself up, I leapt from the streetlight, dropping to the roof of a passing van while retracting my skates. On the way down, I shot a puddle of blue right where I was landing, immediately launching myself forward to a moving truck that was coming from the other direction. My aim was perfect, as I twisted myself sideways to run along the side of that truck from front to back. This truck was driving down the road while I ran alongside it in the opposite direction. Reaching the end while the driver leaned on his horn, I then flipped over sideways to land on the hood of a taxi that was actually heading the way I needed to go. Namely, after the disappearing semi. This was too important for me to let that thing get away, even if Angel Dust was a giant pain in the ass. And I knew something about pains in the ass. I was just usually on the other side of it.
Using a shot of red paint against the top of a passing pickup truck, I called back over my shoulder, “No thanks, I don’t feel like being raptured right now! Come back in a few years!” Even as the words left my mouth, I was already letting the paint yank me over to the other vehicle. But I didn’t cling to it, instead simply dashing along the top of the truck cab before flinging myself off that as well. My feet smacked down against a blue-painted spot on the edge of the large metal roof covering a bus stop, propelling me a good twenty feet into the air. The height and momentum brought me far enough to land on the corner of a drug store roof, and I was able to dive into a slide to carry me behind the nearby air conditioning unit an instant before a new spray of tar dust covered the thing.
Yeah, I couldn’t stay here for long. But before I could push myself up to keep going, the woman herself landed just ahead of me, about twenty feet away. Yeah, she was right there.
“Damn flying people,” I found myself blurting while springing back to my feet, my eyes locked on her for the very instant she tried to throw more of that dust at me. Or stepped closer, given she still had the mix of green and red swirling around her like an angry, festive swarm of hornets. “You should run, jump, and yank yourself through the air on invisible tractor beams like a good, upstanding paint-citizen.” I had no idea what that was supposed to mean, exactly. But then, I often didn’t fully understand what I was saying. The words just came out.
It also gave me a chance to get a better, up-close look at the woman herself. That red helmet and bronze mask covered every bit of her expression. Even her eyes, given there were no holes for them in the metal mask part. There was a shape for her eyes, along with one for her nose and mouth, but it was all solid metal. I thought I could read amusement in her body language, but couldn’t be sure.
Actually, come to think of it, she really was like a mixture between Alloy and me. Her dust powers could make different effects, like my paint. But she also formed it into armor, tools, and other objects like Alloy did. Was there some sort of conspiracy out there about the two of us being her siblings or something? Cuz that seemed like the sort of idea that would gain traction pretty quick.
The woman’s expression was hidden by that bronze mask, but I could hear her chuckle quietly before speaking up. “Sorry, but I’m not really the type to limit myself. Gotta use every advantage you have, you know?” Even as she said that, the woman split that giant sword she was holding down into a pair of heavy flails, then started to swing them around almost lazily. “And I can’t let you get to that truck. But you know, if you want to call it a day, we can be done with all this. I certainly won’t tell anybody.”
I knew what she was doing. She was buying time for that truck to get even further away. Her goons from the Easy Eights had stolen it and now they were going to get away unless I got past her. Grimacing, I shook my head. “Yeah, sorry, unless you can show a receipt for everything on that truck, I think I’m gonna have to take it back.”
Still swinging those flails around almost lazily, clearly in no hurry, the woman drawled, “Gonna make a move then, Paintboy? Cuz from where I’m sitting, you’re a bit too far back to matter.”
Raising one shoulder in a casual shrug, I replied, “Sure you don’t want to make the first move? I mean, you are the bad guy. Err, girl.” As I spoke, my head tilted a little to the side for a moment, making sure the motion was visible before I turned my attention back to her. “Wouldn’t wanna be rude or anything.”
There was a brief pause before Angel Dust lunged toward me. In that moment, I used blue paint that I had already put on the bottom of my shoes to launch myself backwards and up over the street, flipping over in the air before landing on top of a billboard advertising insurance. Then I stopped, waiting for the woman.
She, in turn, came up short just in front of me. I could hear the frown in her voice. “You’re not trying to get to the truck. You’re just stalling me.” The realization came on instant later, as she abruptly inverted in the air, those wings spreading out. “The armored girl.” With that, she was suddenly flying as fast as she could away from me.
“Hey, hold on!” I shouted, cursing loudly before springing after the woman. My hand shot out, sending a spray of yellow that missed her as she rolled to one side in the air. At the same time, my other hand sent out a shot of red that hit a building to pull me after her. “Don’t you wanna play some more?!”
She distractedly sent a cloud of that puking dust back toward me, but I easily avoided the stuff by letting myself drop under it (with a bit of help from green to speed up the process) before another quick shot of red called me toward the open window of an apartment building. From the corner of my eye, I could see Angel Dust flying up and over it. But I went straight through the window, shooting through feet first before landing smoothly in the middle of what looked like a kitchen. A guy was there, reading something on his tablet while stirring coffee. As soon as I landed a few feet away from him, he yelped out a curse.
“Sorry, sorry!” I called out while sprinting out of the room and to the front door of his apartment. “Emergency!” Then I was out the door and into the outside stairwell. A woman just ahead of me was opening her apartment door with an armload of groceries, so I sped myself up with some green paint, reaching her an instant later.
“Evening, ma’am,” I blurted, “Let me help you with that.” A moment later, I had the heavy bags of groceries in my arms while my foot nudged the door the rest of the way open. In what felt like a blur of motion, I raced through her apartment, setting the grocery bags neatly on the table before hurling myself out the back window on the opposite side of the building from where I had gone in. On the way out, I called back, “Have a nice day!”
With that little trick, I managed to dive out the window mere moments after Angel Dust had cleared the roof. I could see her ahead of me, swooping to the right to go between a narrow gap between two buildings. Immediately, I used a shot of red paint at a nearby telephone pole to yank myself that way, hitting it with blue on the way so that I could flip over and hit the spot with my feet to be launched after the flying woman. One more shot of red pulled me the rest of the way to one of those buildings she had just flown between. Then I was running along the side of it for several steps before popping my skates and activating another spot of green across my shoulders.
She saw me coming, apparently. Because just before clearing the gap between the buildings ahead of me, Angel Dust sent a cloud of orange dust back toward the spot where I was about to be. I wasn’t exactly sure what that color did, but I was willing to bet it wouldn’t make me invulnerable like my own orange. So, I used blue on my shoes to launch myself sideways off that wall and toward the opposite building. On the way, a quick shot of pink hit the spot where I was about to hit, and I instantly canceled it, turning that spot incredibly bouncy. My feet hit it, and the wall literally indented a good four feet before snapping back into place to send me flying forward and back to the first building, just ahead of that orange cloud. On the way, I couldn’t resist the loud whoop that escaped me. Probably unnecessary, but I was only human.
I used that trick a couple more times, ping-ponging my way to the end of the gap between the buildings to avoid the shots that Angel Dust kept sending back toward me. She was distracted, not really paying too much attention beyond wanting to slow me down while she raced to catch up with the truck. On the way, she called back, “It was a nice plan, Paintboy! Distract me while your little friend recovers and goes after the truck! Too bad you’re not that good of an actor!”
“Hey, I’m trying to improve!” I shouted back that way while hitting a lamppost with pink paint and then canceling it so that my impact a second later would make the post bend over almost in half before it launched me upward and over. With a grunt, I landed on the edge of a roof to skate along it. “Why don’t you come back so you can give me some pointers? I don’t suppose I could offer you lunch in exchange!?”
Yeah, she didn’t respond to that. She was too busy doing her level best to reach the truck in time. But I was hot on her heels, and she had to keep evading my occasional paint shots. Though I couldn’t shoot too much at her. I definitely had more paint than when I had first Touched, but it was still limited. I had to give it time to recharge, so I spent the next bit mostly running after her and using the gravity-shifting boots to avoid losing the woman completely.
Our race continued that way, with me barely keeping her in sight. She could fly, so she had the advantage. But I was able to hit her a couple of times with yellow paint to slow her down now and then. It was just enough, between that and the other few bits of paint boosts I used, to stop her from completely pulling away.
So yeah, this was how my Friday afternoon was going. It had been just under a week since that not-so-little party and convention. Beyond the normal going to school bits, most of that time had been split between pretending things were completely normal with my family and digging a tunnel so I could sneak into their secret underground supervillain lair and stop them. Yeah, some things might have become a bit different lately, like my having more people to talk to about all this. But one thing that definitely hadn’t changed was my complicated feelings about all that. I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to do beyond wanting to get all the information I could out of that place. I kept telling myself that I would have more of an idea once I had more information to work with, but even I knew that was mostly an excuse. I wasn’t ready to make any firm decisions about any of that yet. But someday soon, I was going to have to.
For now, however, all I had to do was try to keep up with the flying woman who kept doing her level best to get away from me. All I was really doing, to be honest, was harassing her just enough that she couldn’t take her full attention off me. But hey, I was going to take what I could get right then. And I did manage to send a couple messages to warn Alloy.
I knew the moment she saw the truck, because the woman instantly inverted herself in the air, wings flaring out before tucking in as she drove almost straight down behind a building. Seeing that, I dove downward as well, landing against the side of the building before skating my way around it. A moment later, I came around the corner and spotted the semi. It had stopped short, barely short of Angel Dust, who was hovering in the air in front of them. Her voice snapped out a demand of, “Where’s the girl?!”
While the driver shouted back through his open window that he had no idea what girl she was talking about, I threw myself forward and down, rolling under the trailer. On my back beneath it, I raised both hands forward and up, shooting a spray of pink paint all along the spot that hooked the trailer to the truck. I had to work fast, because I could hear the Easy Eight lieutenant snapping for the men to get the hell out of there.
They obeyed, and the truck immediately started to pull away. Which made it yank at the pink paint so that the truck literally snapped its way off the trailer and lurched forward with a squeal of tires. The front end of the trailer slammed down, but I was far enough back that it didn’t land on me.
As the truck screeched to a halt at the end of the block, and Angel Dust blurted out a surprised curse, I threw myself out from under the trailer and popped up.
Her eyes found me immediately, of course, and the woman landed hard, drawing one of her dust-swords before demanding, “What–how–where did–” Her words stopped short, and I could feel her eyes narrowing at me before she murmured, “It was a trick. Your partner isn’t anywhere near here.”
“Wanna bet?” That was Alloy, who landed on her board a bit behind the woman, catching her between us.
Speaking brightly, I chirped, “Oh, you mean the part where I let you think I was stalling you because Alloy was already going after your truck, just so you’d stop trying to stall me and let me follow you all the way here, basically showing me exactly where the truck went after they worked so hard to lose me? Yeah, that was a trick. But I did manage to tell my partner over there how to find us so she could catch up. So, you know, in the end she is here. But more importantly, tell me something.
“How do you like my acting now?”