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I was trying very hard not to think about the fact that I was leaving Izzy, Amber, and the others behind to fight a bunch of bad guys who were boosted by Banneret. They could handle it, right? I wasn’t going to come back later and find out that–
Fuck, stop it. Stop thinking about that. There was nothing else that we could do. The other bad guys were still after Inessa for whatever reason (and boy was I going to ask questions about that as soon as the opportunity presented itself). We couldn’t just leave her high and dry, so we’d had to split up. It was the best–only choice we’d had.
And yet, none of those thoughts stopped me from worrying while gripping the handle on the marble-board tightly. Peyton was sending it as fast as she could across the park, toward the west exit. On the way, I did my best to distract myself by giving the others a quick rundown about what Fogwalker and Theory/Praxis’s deals were. Obviously, on the latter all I could do was say ‘try to stop them when Theory is out,’ which wasn’t much. I just felt repeated waves of confusion and trepidation about this whole thing. Why were they so intent on grabbing Inessa? This wasn’t just an ordinary kidnapping of a celebrity, was it? There were much better targets than her. As much as she might’ve been my hero, I knew she was relatively minor as far as that went. And this wasn’t just a small operation. They had at least five Touched here along with all these Prev troops. It would’ve been completely insane for all of this to just be for kidnapping one minor-to-moderate celebrity. So what the hell was actually going on? I still had no idea.
None of the others were any closer to an answer either. At least not in the brief time we had while soaring just above the trees, our eyes frantically scanning for any sign of our quarry. We were just going to have to deal with this first before finding out why it was happening. And seriously, where the hell were these guys?! They had been just ahead of us before. But obviously, Praxis was back out with another transportation power. Did that mean we were too late? Did they already have–fuck, no. That wasn’t helpful either. Just keep looking, they had to be somewhere around–
“There!” It was Calvin, the boy shifting his weight a bit as he continued gripping the handle with one hand so he could point off to the left side with the other. “Over by the tennis courts!”
He was right. Even as my gaze snapped that way, I could see another group of those Prev thugs swarming over the courts, which were set next to one of the large restrooms. The full brick and mortar building type in this case, rather than the line of port-a-potties that had been over by the skating area. There was a sidewalk leading out of the restrooms and over to the courts, before it split off to head back deeper into the park or over the lot where several cars were parked.
For a second, I didn’t see Theory, Praxis, or Fogwalker. Or any sign of the latter’s power. Then there was a loud bang, just as we flew far enough to see the front of the restroom. Praxis was there, having just ripped one of the apparently locked metal doors off. It crumpled in her grip before she tossed it over her shoulder and barged inside, shouting something I couldn’t make out. Fuck, fuck, was Inessa in there? Were they about to take her?
Not on my watch. Without wasting another second, I blurted for the others to follow while hitting them with a quick spray of orange just in case. Then I dove over the side of the board, using a bit of blue at the last second to launch myself out and forward. I could see my target ahead, a skylight in the top of the building. There were two, one for each restroom. I was aiming for the one on the side Praxis had just gone into. And I wasn’t satisfied with my normal falling speed. Instead, I shot two bits of red to either side of the skylight and activated those along with red spots on my boots. Just as I started being yanked that way, I also activated a pair of long green lightning bolts along most of my legs. Between the green boost, the red yanking me that way, and my normal falling speed, I rocketed toward that building. At the last second, I canceled the red pull and tucked my arms against my chest while using an orange dumbbell symbol across my chest and a matching one taking up most of my back to make sure I didn’t go splat.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please don’t die!
Was I talking to myself or Inessa? I had no idea, but the advice was probably good for both of us.
An instant later, I hit the window and the glass shattered underneath the impact. If I hadn’t been protected by the orange paint, I would’ve been cut to ribbons. Not that it would’ve mattered, because if I didn’t have the orange paint, I would’ve died about a nanosecond later once I hit the floor of the restroom. It was cement, which cracked a bit under the force of my landing.
I didn’t consciously take the time to look around and actively take in anything about the environment other than ‘inside a restroom with a cement floor.’ And yet, I instinctively knew the doorway was six feet ahead of me and one foot to the right, there were four stalls to my left, and a couple urinals to the right, with two sinks to the left of the doorway against the same wall as the stalls. I knew all of that without thinking about it. The information was just there in my head.
Even as I hit the ground in a crouch (feeling a wave of pain run through my legs despite the paint), I could already see my target ahead of me. Praxis was slower than me for the moment, her gaze still raised as she had reflexively looked up at the sound of the glass shattering. She was starting to lower her head to bring me into her vision, but I was faster. A shot of red paint hit her front, while I sent another one behind me toward the wall. In the next second, she saw me, and raised her hand. But I was already diving forward and down into a roll while activating that red paint. Instantly, the woman was yanked off her feet and went flying over my body as I rolled under her. She slammed into the far wall, cursing up a storm.
For a brief, happy moment, I thought I had a good ten seconds where the paint would hold her. But no sooner was I back on my feet, than the woman slammed both fists into that wall, punching two holes into it. She was going to rip that part of the wall apart within a couple seconds, and then it wouldn’t be able to hold her.
Or she would have. To slow that down, I shot the woman with a blotch of yellow paint across her back. She couldn’t move as quickly, so she couldn’t punch as hard. Then I hit the wall itself with orange to protect it. There, that should hold her for–
She wasn’t there anymore. Theory was. But he wasn’t stuck to the wall, because his body hadn’t been hit with paint. Nor was he slowed down, which he demonstrated by immediately spinning toward me with a gun raised, and my green speed boost had worn off right then. Fortunately, I still had another second or two of orange time left for protection. But the thing didn’t fire bullets. Instead, I was hit by a concussive blast that sent me flying through the open doorway. In mid-flight, just as I reached the outside, I managed to activate a yellow parachute design across most of my torso and down my legs. It slowed me down enough that I could flip over in the air, sending red shots toward either side of the doorway, and yank myself back that way. As soon as I was going back the right direction, I canceled the yellow paint to get my speed back.
Theory had turned back toward the bathroom stalls as I rocketed back into the restroom. I saw him spin back toward me, raising that gun again. But before he could do anything with it, Poise appeared, standing right on the edge of that now-shattered skylight I had gone through. She saw me, saw the man with the gun raised, then dropped down onto him, taking him to the ground under the weight of the impact. A second later, I landed on one knee next to them.
That should have been the end of it, by all rights. Unfortunately, the second Paige brought the asshole to the floor, he vanished. Praxis was back, but she wasn’t underneath the other girl. Instead, she had reappeared about two feet back, in a standing position. Before Paige or I could react to that, the woman caught hold of both of us, one with each hand, and hurled us forward into what remained of the same wall I had red painted her to a few seconds earlier. We both hit the wall together, and I was really glad I had my helmet. Even then, I was going to be heavily bruised after all this.
There was a loud clanging sound behind us, and I twisted my head back just in time to see Praxis rip one of the stall doors off. She glanced inside, apparently saw nothing, then pivoted to swing the whole door at the two of us. But Paige had recovered by then too, and both of us dropped to the floor, letting the thing slam into the wall just above our heads.
By that point, Style had arrived as well. I didn’t know where the others were, but she came through the open doorway behind Praxis while she was still in mid-swing with that door and launched herself into a kick at the woman’s back. It didn’t actually do much. Strong as my doppelganger was in her biolem body, Praxis was currently an order of magnitude stronger. It did, however, draw her attention. The woman spun that way, throwing a punch that was actually quick enough to catch Sierra across the face (or rather, the visor part of the military-style tactical helmet she was wearing). Fortunately for Sierra, the other woman’s super strength had apparently worn off somewhere between the time that Sierra kicked her and when that punch landed. Because her hand just bounced off, and Praxis blurted a sharp, pained curse.
Paige and I were both back on our feet and turned that way by then, while Sierra went to grab the woman’s arm. But even without active powers, Praxis wasn’t helpless. Her uninjured hand extended, and I caught a glimpse of some sort of silver bracelet on her wrist, just before it sent out a blast of concussive force similar to the one Theory’s gun had hit me with. But Sierra was quick enough to pivot out of the way, so the blast went over her head and took out a chunk of the door frame behind her.
Paige and I both moved to grab the woman’s arms, even as Sierra continued her pivot and came back around to kick her in the stomach. But all of us missed. Primarily because the woman wasn’t there anymore. She was gone and Theory was back. Like before, he didn’t appear in the same spot Praxis had been in, which I hadn’t even known was an option until a few moments earlier, and still felt like cheating. Either way, the man popped into view a bit to Sierra’s left, and already had his gun raised that way. But before he could pull the trigger, Paige had already recovered from missing her attempt to catch Praxis’s arm and instead lashed out with a kick. Her foot hit his wrist, sending his aim off to pulverize one of the other stalls.
And then I saw her. Inessa was there, crouched in a corner of that now-demolished stall. She had barely avoided having her head taken off by that blast. Theory saw her too and started to turn that way, but both Sierra and Paige jumped over and got to him before he could do anything. Both of their fists collided with his head, dazing the man briefly and hopefully preventing him from switching places for the moment. Together, they caught his arms and shove-threw him out the doorway as hard as they could.
“Get her out of here!” Paige blurted at me, just as she and Sierra went through the doorway after Theory.
Wait, yeah, good idea. Pivoting back to where my idol was, I shoved all questions and confusion out of my head (along with the urge to giggle stupidly when I saw her), and just reached out to grab her arms. “Sorry, Miss Sidorov,” I blurted, “but we’ve gotta go!” Before she could respond, I activated purple hammers along both of my arms to help her get up. Then I wrapped my arms around her (stop thinking about that, Cassidy) and planted a blue puddle under our feet. But not just any blue puddle. First I made an empty circle of green, like I had done with the empty circle of yellow earlier. Then I filled it in with blue and allowed the former to feed into the latter.
Yeah, when I activated that thing, we were rocketed out of the restroom and through the broken skylight. It was a good thing the glass was all gone by that point (crunched into tiny shards under our feet throughout the room below) because we went up through the hole like we had been shot out of a cannon.
And this time, I wasn’t the only one giving a loud whoop of delight. Inessa’s rang through my ears as we soared high up, reaching a spot maybe ten or twelve feet above the roof of the restroom. Then I activated a yellow parachute ship I had put on both my back and Inessa’s as my arms were wrapped around her. That slowed our fall just enough that I could look around quickly. And I finally saw what was keeping the others busy. Alloy, Calvin, and Hobbes were dealing with those guys we had seen on the tennis courts. Or keeping them occupied, at the very least. Which explained why they hadn’t come rushing to their boss’s aid.
After taking that in, I used red and orange paint to get Inessa and myself to the ground as far from the courts and restrooms as I could manage. We landed safely in the grass about seventy feet away, both of us dropping into rolls to deal with the momentum before popping back to our feet. She was slightly quicker about it than I was, which really said a lot about how amazing she–
Right, we knew where the Prev troops were, and Paige and Sierra were keeping Theory and Praxis busy for the moment. Hopefully they wouldn’t give Theory the time he needed to set up a new power. I still wasn’t sure exactly how she’d kept the super strength for a few more seconds after switching with him that one time, but maybe it gave her a little more time if she ended early or–whatever, there wasn’t time to think about it. Right now, I just had to figure out how to get Inessa out of–
Darkness enveloped me, cutting off my vision almost entirely. I could barely see a few inches in front of my face. And it wasn’t just darkness. It felt like being underwater without actually being wet. The air was literally thick. This cloud that had appeared slowed my motions, slowed everything. It felt like my thoughts were slowed down.
Oh, right, this would be Fogwalker. I had forgotten about him for just a second. And now the two of us were caught in his power. I grabbed Inessa’s arm, looking around quickly. Not that it helped. I could still sense every object around us. I knew where the trees and bushes were within the vicinity, and even knew exactly where the edge of the restroom building and tennis courts were in the distance. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help me know where the Touched lynx was. And to be honest, the idea of one of those things prowling through this fog toward me really–yeah it wasn’t fun.
Thinking quickly, I released Inessa, stepping in front of her while covering my upper torso and helmet with a mix of pink and blue paints. The former fed into the latter as I activated them. Then prayed that Fogwalker would make his move soon enough. And asked myself just what sort of insane person hoped that a basically-invisible superpowered lynx would jump at them within the next ten seconds. Why would I do that?
Because it was better than the fucking thing doing it in eleven seconds, that’s why.
The lynx was so quiet, I didn’t hear it approach until the very last second. A slight rustling on the grass was my only warning. Then the full weight of that oversized cat crashed into me, knocking me backwards and down. And yet, under that impact, my entire pink-blue-painted torso sort of collapsed in on itself. It felt really weird, the way my whole chest seemed to turn into an accordion. And no sooner had Fogwalker hit me, than my torso snapped immediately back to the way it was supposed to be, catapulting Fogwalker away from me. I heard his panicked and confused yowl as the big cat went flying away from me with several times more force than he’d actually hit me with in the first place. In the distance, I could hear him crash into the dirt with another yelp.
Quickly canceling the paint, I grabbed Inessa’s hand again and started running. Well, as close to running as we could get in this stupid fog. “Come on!” I shouted her way. “Trust me!”
Thankfully, she didn’t argue, and the two of us were soon ‘sprinting’ (if you could call it that) together through pitch black fog. I directed her around bushes, avoided a few random statues, pulled her away from a tree, and overall just kept running as fast as we could in the fog. We just had to reach the edge of Fogwalker’s power, and then–
We hit open air and sunlight just in time for an invisible force to pick me up and throw me up against the nearest tree. My back hit it hard enough to make me flinch.
Praxis, of course. She was there, panting heavily while clearly glaring at me. Her hand was extended, using what was obviously a telekinesis power to keep me pinned against the tree. “No… more…” she managed through hard breaths. “She’s coming with us.”
My eyes were scanning the area around us in a panic, but there was no one else in sight. No one here to help out. Everyone was busy, or hurt, or… or…
“You don’t have to be such a bitch about this. I mean, come on, your brother made a lot of fun toys,” Praxis was saying, her gaze laser-focused on Inessa. “And now all of it’s just sitting there, all sad and alone while he’s stuck on Breakwater.”