Inessa’s brother was a Tech-Touched? And a villain?! And he was on Breakwater?!
I… I didn’t know any of that.
While I was still reeling from the words, Inessa hissed, “I am not going with you.” She was picking herself up from the grass where she’d stumbled. “As I have told everyone else, I will die before I allow you to use me to open that vault.”
Open a vault? Wait, what?
Praxis continued. “I hate to be rude, especially to someone I’ve enjoyed watching as much as you. But yes, you are. The only way into that vault of his is with his DNA. Which you have. So you’re coming with us. And we’re gonna have ourselves an early Christmas.”
“We would have waited until after your little show so this wasn’t so public.” That was the voice of Fogwalker. The Touched Lynx was stalking closer as he continued. “But it turns out you’ve been a busy beaver. What is it, one more test before you shut down your connection to that vault?”
Praxis made a show of exhaling in relief. “Good thing we got here in time! How rude would it have been if you and your friend managed to finish your little experiments? Then nobody would be able to get into that vault.”
Inessa’s head was shaking wildly. “That’s the point! Nobody should be able to use those weapons!”
Wait… wait… my mind was spinning out. But still, pieces were clicking into place. Inessa also had a connection to a thing full of dangerous stuff that would only open for her DNA, just like Errol with that safe that the Scions had. In this case, her brother’s vault. But she was trying to do something to make it so she couldn’t open the vault anymore, and they were almost successful. That was why she was being put up at the Foster’s house. Whether she knew or not, I had no idea. But that was it. She was here so they could find out more about those experiments or something. They probably wanted to remove Errol’s connection to the safe so he couldn’t be used to open it.
That was… that was positive, right? If they were going through all this rather than just killing him, that was good. It meant my family weren’t the type to just execute a little kid like that.
Even as I had that thought, my brain pointed out that they might also want to use that research to transfer control of the safe so they could control all the people Overseer had made puppets out of. I didn’t even know if that was possible, but it still occurred to me. Was I just being too cynical?
I had no idea, and it honestly didn’t matter right this second. What mattered was making sure these guys didn’t manage to kidnap Inessa and make her open that other vault, wherever it was. We could deal with the rest of that later.
To that end, I realized that I was no longer feeling the invisible pressure against my chest. I had been lowered to the ground and was just standing there against the tree. Praxis’s telekinesis power had faded. But we weren’t exactly home free. She had her arm with that concussive force bracelet pointed my way, and Fogwalker had moved right up to one side of me, ready to pounce if I moved.
When I looked around once more, desperate to find help, I realized why no one had come to us yet. Fogwalker had created clouds of darkness all around us. We were basically in the eye of the storm, a small pocket area that was open. I had no idea how far his fog stretched, but it was enough to stop anyone from finding where we were any time soon.
Okay, so I had to deal with this myself. With two (or three depending on how you were counting) different powerful Fell-Touched watching my every move, I had to get Inessa out of here before they used her to open that vault and get a bunch of apparently incredibly dangerous weapons. Great, just fantastic. One wrong move and this whole thing was going to blow up in my face.
In that second, Praxis was replaced with Theory, pointing his gun my way while using his other hand to dig inside that lab coat. He produced a bracelet of some kind and tossed it toward Inessa. “Put that on so we can get out of here, unless you want to see your little savior’s brains get blown out the back of that helmet. This thing was turned low before. It’s not anymore.”
Okay, Okay, think about this. What was I going to do? Inessa was fumbling with the bracelet. I had no idea what it was actually going to do, but clearly if she put it on, this was over. If I was going to stop this, I had to do something right now. Especially considering Theory was out now and was probably setting up a new power for Praxis that would fuck us all over even more.
Through the past few seconds, I had been painting new designs on the inside of my costume. I was pretty sure these two were watching for any paint, but they were too new to realize I could put it on the inside instead of just the outside. They thought they had me covered just by watching my front and back, and I was going to use that assumption against them. It was my only shot.
I could see the look on Inessa’s face as she glanced at me. She didn’t want to put on the bracelet, and certainly didn’t want to let these guys get into the vault with her brother’s weapons. But she also didn’t want to let me get my brains blown out, which I appreciated. Still, as she moved to put the thing on her wrist, I knew I was out of time. I had to do this now.
Praying that I had the right idea about my new combined paint tricks, I had made one of my arms and both legs a mix of purple and pink. That was on the skin and the inside of my clothing. Meanwhile, I had orange and green designs across most of the rest of my body. I activated all of it at once, and instantly lashed out with both hands. My right hand went down and back toward Fogwalker, and as my palm hit the lynx’s face, I activated the blue and green circle I had put there. Instantly, he was launched away from me, flying off like I’d shot him from a cannon, his yowl filling the air. At the same time, my other arm (the one that was painted pink and purple) snapped forward, extending in the process. The pink part of the paint made it stretchy, and the purple meant I was strong enough to make it snap outward like that just by making a throwing motion. The arm stretched a good fifteen feet, clear across the distance between Theory and me. He fired off a shot, but with the green paint active, I had time to shove myself upward. That was where the purple and pink paint on my legs came in. Suddenly, it was like I was standing on stilts. My legs extended a good ten feet into the air. They would’ve been way too thin to support my weight like that, given how much they were pulled like taffy in the process. But the purple meant I could stand like that.
The shot blew a hole in the tree right between my now-extended legs. At the same moment, I managed to catch hold of that gun with my extended hand and ripped it out of his grasp. My voice rose to a shout, directed toward Inessa. “Don’t put it on!”
Fogwalker was recovering, and I saw the darkness start to close in around me. Meanwhile, Theory had vanished and was replaced with Praxis. They were ready to use whatever power he gave her, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know what it was.
Taking three green-speed boosted steps forward on my ridiculously long legs (seriously, I was a good thirteen to fourteen feet tall by that point and felt like a giant for the first time in my life) I grabbed Inessa around the waist with one arm, which wrapped around her like a tentacle or something. Yeah, it was weird, but I didn’t have time to apologize. Even as Praxis was turning my way, hand rising to point, I activated the blue-mixed-with-green circles I had put on the bottom of my shoes. Instantly, I was launched upward with Inessa in tow. Something, an energy blast or whatever, passed through the area where I had just been. But we were already rocketing into the air. We went into the dark cloud and my vision was cut off entirely, but that didn’t matter. I knew exactly where we were. I could sense a huge tree about a hundred feet or so to my left, and hit that with a red shot of paint, using another bit on my glove and wrist to yank both of us in that direction.
A second later, we were out of the fog. The sunlight returned with almost painful suddenness, and I saw the tree ahead of us. Canceling the red paint so we wouldn’t be pulled directly into it, I was about to look for another spot to yank us toward when I caught a glimpse of Alloy flying in from the side. Quickly, I canceled the rest of my paint, except for the orange, and added a bit to Inessa while my arm went back to normal. And yes, it was a weird sensation when it unwrapped itself from around her. The two of us fell right into the large bowl that Alloy made out of a couple of her marbles. She came up right beside us on her board, blurting, “What the hell is going on?”
I was already pushing myself up. “Take her! Get her out of here, just go somewhere safe and out of sight until you hear from me. Out of the park, wherever, just get her gone!”
Thankfully, the other girl didn’t question that. She muttered an apology for any jostling to Inessa and then took off with her even as I launched myself out of the bowl. My paint was almost gone by that point, but I used just a little bit of orange to protect myself as I landed back on the ground. A quick glance over my shoulder showed Alloy flying out of the park with Inessa.
That was the good news. The bad news was that just then I caught sight of a man stepping out of the bushes nearby. It was a man I recognized immediately. He had the same sleek red suit over a black silk shirt, the same red leather boots, and the same red and gold mask. The mask of a devil, for Devil’s Due.
I tried to react quickly enough to send a shot of black paint at the guy, but he was ready and spoke first. “Hey, hang on a second, I’m not here to fight.”
His words made me hesitate. I really should mute him, but maybe it’d be better to listen. There’d been so much fighting already, and if he didn’t want to continue that, what was the harm in hearing him out?
I could hear the smile in the man’s voice as he continued. “Good, that’s good. We all want this fighting to stop, right? And the best way to do that is if we have what we want. We get to leave with the girl and nobody else has to get hurt. That lets everyone be happy, and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” He waited until I gave a little nod before going on. “Which means the best way to make everyone happy is for you to call your friend back and tell her to bring Inessa. Then we’ll leave with her and you can stay here with everyone else and make sure they’re okay.”
Sure, right, that made sense. I did want the fighting to stop, and that sounded like the best way to do it. So, I reached for my phone so I could call Peyton. In just a moment, this would all be over. It was a thought that made me smile under my mask and helmet.
Fortunately, before I could actually do more than get the phone in my hand, another figure came running up. A hand smacked the phone out of my hand, while a strangely calm voice pointedly announced, “You don’t want to do that.”
It was Skip, the Ten Towers Touched. She was there in her usual dark blue-black bodysuit with intricate runic-like lines running through it, covered partially by a short-sleeved white robe with a hood that covered the top half of her head, and a black cloth mask that covered the bottom half of her face while leaving just enough of her eyes exposed to show Asian features.
After knocking the phone out of my hand and saying that, she kept walking toward the man in front of us. Seeing her coming, Devil’s Due quickly spoke up. “Hey now, we can all get along. Don’t you want to be friends too?”
“Not particularly,” she informed him flatly, just before her foot lashed out in a kick that took the man in the stomach. As he doubled over, she caught his arm and was just about to put a pair of handcuffs on him. But at the last second, her gaze moved to look off to the side. An instant later, a blast of lightning shot out, almost nailing the girl. But she had already vanished from that spot, reappearing right next to me again.
Right, Skip. She could skip any effect on herself, including Devil’s Due’s power, and skip back along to any physical location she had been in the past twenty-four hours. The understanding struck me just as the last of that dick’s power wore off and I was back to thinking for myself again. Just in time to see the source of that lightning blast. It was Juice, of course. He was running our way, and looked pretty profoundly pissed off. Janus were with him, Mister Harmful facing us. And if Juice looked pissed off, hoo boy did Harmful put that to shame.
Quickly, I did what I should’ve done in the first place and hit Devil’s Due with a shot of black paint to shut him up. No way did I want to go through that again. Sadly, I didn’t have a paint color that could so easily deal with Janus and Juice. On the plus side, it might be just Skip and me facing down three Fell-Touched, but at least I’d been standing here long enough that my paint had refilled. So I was going into this with a full tank. Still, we were going to have to do this the hard way.
Or were we? Even as the other two approached, I abruptly realized that we really didn’t have to stand here and fight them. Skip could leave at any time, and I could outrun these guys. Unfortunately, no sooner had that thought occurred to me, than the prospect of escaping became much harder. Fogwalker and Theory appeared behind us, coming out of the bushes. Now we had three guys ahead and two behind. Skip might’ve been able to teleport, but I didn’t like my own odds of being able to avoid all of them, especially when Theory could let out Praxis at any moment with whatever power they wanted.
”Okay,” Theory was saying as they closed in to encircle us. “Let’s try this again. Where is Inessa? Believe me when I say you don’t want to give us a reason to break the answer out of you. Even if my new friend over there would really enjoy it.” His head nodded toward Janus. “One last chance, kid. Give it up. The two of you are surrounded and the girl there can only teleport herself.”
“Watch it,” Fogwalker snarled, “he’s a tricky one. Don’t get too close.”
While I was still trying to think of a way out of this, Skip spoke in that same calm and measured voice. “You are wrong about something.”
“What,” Juice snapped, “you gonna say you can teleport other people after all?” Despite his dismissive words, I could hear the worry behind them. He really was concerned about that being a possibility.
Skip’s head shook easily. “No, you are right about that. What you were wrong about was when you said two of us.“
They (and I, honestly) were still processing that, as another voice spoke up. “Yes, maybe you should count again.”
It was Caishen, Skip’s sister and the leader of the local Ten Towers team. She came into view, with Stick next to her. Soon, they were joined by Bunglebotch, Linesight, and Ephemera. All of them were spread out to surround this group, and all looked fresh. We’d been fighting for a while now, but the Ten Towers Star-Touched had clearly just arrived, and they looked ready to make up for lost time.
At that moment, I saw Theory look to one side. My mouth opened to shout a warning, just as he disappeared. He was replaced with Praxis. But rather than fight, she extended her arms to either side and snapped, “This is a lost cause.” And with that, she and her partners all started to glow brightly. Before anyone could move, they vanished. Teleportation. Theory had given her teleportation. And now they were gone. They left. Which meant it was over. Thank fuck, it was over. Part of me wanted to sag with relief, but I still didn’t know what was going on with the others. Not only my team, but the Minority too. Last I knew, the latter had been fighting Banneret and a bunch of Prevs. Were they okay? Was Izzy alright?
With those thoughts rushing through my mind, Caishen, who had taken a step toward the bad guys just as they disappeared, stopped short. She stared at the spot where Praxis had been, then turned to look toward her sister and me. “Okay then.
“Can someone please tell me what exactly is going on here?”