Okay, this was bad. But on the plus side, one benefit of these guys being so good at drawing attention was that no one happened to be looking my way. They were very focused on the two Fell-Touched (three? two and a half?) who had just made themselves known alongside all their Prev gang buddies. I took advantage of that by dropping the tray of nachos and water bottles onto a nearby table before throwing myself sideways toward one of the nearby tents. I dropped down and rolled under it to get inside and out of sight.
This was one of the refreshment tents. There were stacks of coolers full of ice and soda in the corner, and I managed to drop behind that spot while taking my phone out. Immediately, I sent an SOS text to Wren, Paige, and the others, before also sending an emergency alert via the Doephone with the new recognition code that Silversmith had given us, along with sending a text to the phone number he’d given me too. I figured others were already doing that, but it couldn’t hurt, especially with that code. I also called Amber, while sticking my earbud in. While the call was connecting, I was already tugging the bag that Wren had given me out of my pocket. In the background, there was a lot of shouting. It sounded like the gang assholes were spreading out to start forcing people together into a group. Juice was bellowing demands, and there were a couple shots. But it sounded like they were just shooting into the air.
Abruptly, the call connected. “–gonna get away with any of this, you know?” Amber’s voice was saying.
“Uh huh, sure,” another voice replied. “Now shut up and sit there before you get hurt, babe.”
Okay, great. Amber, and presumably Izzy and the others in the VIP tent, were already being held. Which meant they couldn’t reveal their powers without exposing their identities. For now, at least, they couldn’t help. Not until someone helped get them away from those prying eyes.
I also couldn’t talk to Amber, since I was pretty sure she had just hit the accept call button on her phone and left it in her pocket. At the very least, I would’ve been very surprised if these guys had willingly allowed her to answer it the normal way. They didn’t strike me as that polite.
Leaving the call connected so I could keep listening, I shook out the bag and made it restore the contents of the other one. Specifically, my costume. While everyone outside the tents were shouting and running past, I hurriedly changed into that. It was almost the fastest change I’d pulled off in my life, topped probably only by that time I’d had to get out of my costume and into my dress back at that hotel while my dad was about to come through the door.
From what I could hear through the phone connection, these guys weren’t robbing Amber and the others. They didn’t seem interested in anything other than keeping them under control, which seemed strange. If they weren’t here to rob the people in the VIP tent at the very least, why had they come in the first place? Between that and the fact that they were openly attacking a skating demonstration, none of this made any sense. There had to be something else going on.
At least one of my questions about what they were doing was answered as a voice spoke up from just outside the tent I was in. A voice that made me freeze up in the midst of pulling my helmet on. It was Mister Harmful, snarling an order to one of his subordinates about ‘finding that Ukrainian cunt before the Stars arrive and this whole thing goes tits up.’
Wait, Inessa? They were here for Inessa? Why? Just because she was famous? Did they think they could hold her hostage for some sort of payout or something? What the fuck? She was pretty important, and several companies had a lot of money invested in her, so maybe it was that simple?
One thing was for sure, like hell was I just going to sit around and let them take her. Yeah, I’d been ready to stop these guys before when I thought they were just here to rob people or whatever. But now? Now it was personal. They wanted to hurt the girl I’d idolized since I was in second grade? Fuck every single part of that. Now I was really gonna make these guys regret ever showing up here.
I uhh… just wasn’t exactly sure how to do that. Especially considering I was all by myself out here, for the moment. But I definitely couldn’t just wait until help arrived. Wherever Inessa was, these guys would’ve found her by that point. I had to make sure that didn’t happen.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know where she was either. But I did know where these guys were, which meant my best way of dealing with this was to distract them long enough for reinforcements to show up.
To that end, I took a few seconds to put as much paint over myself as I could manage. If I was going to do this without getting myself or anyone else killed, I had to be ready. Before long, my entire suit and helmet were covered inside and out. I also reached down and found a few small rocks on the ground. I was going to paint them white and maybe use them as a distraction. But at the last second I realized it would probably be a good idea if they flew faster too. Green and white together. Fast rocks that would glow. That had to be useful, right? At least to catch someone’s attention. So, just as I was focusing on making white paint appear, I also thought about adding some green lines.
It worked. Most of the rocks were white, but they had some green swirls mixed in. Weirdly, however, when I looked closely it seemed like the green was sort of bleeding into the white. They weren’t smooth lines, it was more like they were blending together.
Weird, but whatever. I didn’t have time to focus on that. Not when I could already hear more and more complaints and demands. It sounded like they were rounding up all the civilians and making them stand together in the middle of the skate park’s bowl. Which was a pretty good choice, all things considered. The ‘bowl’ was actually four impressions in the cement, each about ten feet deep and shaped like a four-leafed clover all together. With everyone down there, squeezed into that space, they would be easy for just a few people to watch over. While, presumably, everyone else looked for Inessa.
Seriously, how had she managed to stay hidden for so long? Was she actually part of that crowd, blending in somehow? She was famous, but it was possible. It wasn’t like she was a movie star or whatever. If she had a hat on to hide her distinctive blue hair, maybe she could stay incognito for awhile. Or maybe she was hiding somewhere like I was.
Before I could focus too much on that, I heard another voice. It was Juice, snapping something to one of his subordinates about securing the perimeter, and that ‘the others’ wouldn’t be able to delay the Stars for that long, so they better hurry the hell up. Their voices faded as they kept moving.
Locking my fully-painted helmet into place, I pushed myself up just as my phone buzzed a few times. The first was an answering text from Peyton, letting me know she was grabbing the others. The second and third were responses from the authorities and my dad (as Silversmith), confirming that they were sending reinforcements. Unfortunately, that didn’t include an ETA, and at least according to what I had just overheard, they were going to be delayed.
The fourth thing wasn’t a text. It was an incoming call from… from Ryder? Seeing that, I blinked before disconnecting from Amber’s phone. It wasn’t like she could talk to me anyway, not without people noticing. Ryder on the other hand, if he could do something with his mites…
Sure enough, as soon as I connected, an electronically-generated voice spoke. “Paintball. Can help direct you through cameras, tell you when someone is behind you or where to move. Can hear you through connection with Mite if you speak.”
Eits. Eits could help me. He was here, he knew who I was. Even standing in a group, he could still use his mites to control the electronics that he’d already infected, and apparently he’d done so with the cameras surrounding the park. Honestly, I couldn’t blame him that much. Especially not now.
“Got it,” I whispered mostly under my breath, hoping the phone would pick it up. Janus had moved on from being right outside, but I knew there had to be other guys relatively close at any given point as they ran around searching the place for stragglers.
So, I had Eits in my corner, playing… well, the Eye in the Sky. He was gonna be doing the same role he did as a member of La Casa, only he’d be doing it for me this time. I was just going to have to hope that between the two of us, we could pull this off. If I screwed it up…
Pushing aside that thought, I focused. If I needed their attention on me for a while in order to protect Inessa from whatever bullshit they had planned, then by God, I was going to get their attention. Which meant I was going to have to piss them off. Thankfully, I was pretty good at pissing people off. Especially when it came to my old pals Janus. Would they remember me? I was pretty sure they remembered me.
And hey, if they didn’t, I’d be glad to remind them.
“Wait, two guys talking to your right.” The electronic voice was talking in my ear as I crouched by the exit to the refreshments tent. Eits was apparently able to track my phone well enough to know exactly where I was, and coordinate that with the view he could see through the mix of various security cameras and the ones that had been set up to broadcast the event.
Closing my eyes, I focused on what I could feel. There were three tents in this area, including the one I was in. The one straight across from this one was fifteen feet away, with an opening flap that was about four feet further to the right than this one. The other, smaller tent was next door. I could feel tables and chairs in that one, and figured it was some sort of autograph tent or something. Or maybe a command tent for the organizers. The opening flap of that one was perpendicular to these tents, facing the skating area itself, where most of the people were. Which made sense. These were the supply tents, they didn’t need everyone to see them. Whether the smaller one was a command tent or a place for Inessa to sit and sign autographs, facing the public area was just logical.
All that passed through my mind, before the voice spoke up again. “One guy left, twenty feet to your right. Still looking your way, so wait. Wait… Go.”
Immediately, I rolled out of the tent, staying low to avoid any other attention. Sure enough, one of the Prev thugs was there. He was faced away from me, as promised, with a shotgun held to one side. He was holding the thing loosely by the barrel, with his hand nowhere near the trigger.
Bringing both hands up, I hit the guy with a shot of black paint from one and red paint from the other. While he started to turn upon feeling the impact of the paint, I hit the ground in front of me with a spot of red, yanking the guy off his feet. The black paint kept him silent, and I hit the gun with another shot of red as he dropped it, yanking it to my red glove.
The man hit the ground in front of me, still flailing and trying in vain to shout. I quickly tapped the guy’s shoulder to plant a red star there, then held the tent flap aside while activating that bit of red, plus the one I’d left on the ground in there. Immediately, the guy was sent flying that way, landing between a couple of the stacked coolers. Looking both ways to make sure nobody had noticed, I took the gun with me and quickly moved to the guy, hitting him with another small shot of black to keep him quiet a bit longer. Then I went for the longer way of keeping him quiet. Namely, by grabbing one of the many Inessa-themed merch bandanas from a nearby box. Activating a line of purple stars down my arms, I drew back my foot before kicking the guy as he tried to scramble to his feet. As he went down, I dropped on top of him and stuffed the bandana in his mouth, then wrapped another around the back of his head to keep it in place. He was struggling, but I had leverage and strength over him. Enough, in this case, to flip the guy over and use several more tied-together bandanas I had prepared to secure his wrists and then his ankles. I left him there, shoved back behind the same boxes I had been hiding behind earlier. He was still making a little bit of noise, but it was doubtful that anyone would hear him. At least, not until it was too late anyway. And Eits would be able to tell me if anyone came this way.
Speaking of whom, according to him, Juice and Janus were mostly playing overseers. They were simply standing out of the way, ordering their thugs this way and that to search for Inessa. They were too important (or lazy) to do the searching for themselves. And I could use that right now. Instead of following my first instinct and just throwing myself into plain view to draw their attention, I was going to even the odds a little bit by dealing with as many of the separated Prev thugs as I could. Then we’d see just how much I could piss off my old pals.
As I reached the entrance to the tent once more, I spoke quietly. “Positions?”
There was about a five second pause, before the electronic voice returned. “J and J still by the pit. Three armed guys around that. One guy by soda and hot dog truck three hundred feet behind tent, past more trucks. Watching road for anyone coming. Two guys together one hundred and seventy feet ahead of tent, searching in and under staff vehicles. One guy one hundred feet to the left side of tent, looking through port-a-potties.”
He kept going like that, giving me detailed locations for every person here. The guy by the bathrooms was the nearest, so I focused on him. Telling Eits to warn me if anyone else came close, I grabbed some more bandanas, shoved them in my pocket, and activated a bit of black on my shoes before running that way.
Twice, Eits warned me about passing guards who could have looked over and seen me. Each time, I managed to duck down out of sight before they could. Then he warned me not to go one way because two guys were standing in plain view together. So I slipped around behind a parked trailer, heading the long way around toward the back of the port-a-potties, where my target was still carefully opening each door in succession. I was close enough by that point to hear him muttering to himself as he closed another door none-too-gently.
Pressing my back up against the side of the one he was moving to next, I waited until I could hear the door open. Then I stepped around, putting myself directly behind the man as he scanned the empty space within. A shot of black paint into his back assured that no one would hear him, as I activated a series of purple X shapes across my stomach and gave the guy a hard shove from behind. He fell forward, while I snatched the gun out of his grip. Before he could recover, I hit each of his shoulders with a shot of red paint, then added two quick shots to either side of the toilet hole. Activating those meant he was yanked down hard onto his knees with his face basically over the hole. Probably not the nicest position to be in, but on the other hand, these guys were assaulting innocent civilians at an Inessa skating event, so fuck them.
The guy was still flailing, but the paint was holding him down. Before any of it could wear off, I grabbed one of my strings of bandanas and wrapped it around his neck, before pushing one end through one small air hole in the back of the port-a-potty and back through another one, tying both ends off like that to hold him in place.
By that point, the black paint was about to wear off, but before his shouts could attract anyone, I shoved another makeshift gag into his mouth and tied that off as well. Then I whispered, “How popular do you think you’ll be with your buddies if they find you facedown in a port-a-potty like this, dude? Think you’d ever live that down? Or would your nickname be Port-A-John from now on?”
He froze briefly, clearly considering that as I went on. “And just so you know, if I start hearing you make a bunch of noise, I’ll just have to tip this whole thing over. You wanna think about how that’ll go for you in this position?”
Again, the man didn’t seem eager to find out. So I patted his shoulder a couple times. “Hang out here for a bit.” Then I stepped out, closing the door behind me. From the outside, everything looked fine. I took the man’s pistol and hid it under the john for the moment.
From there, using Eits’ directions, I made my way to the parking lot where a couple more guys were searching vehicles. Rolling underneath a truck, I watched until they separated to go around either side of one aisle. While their backs were to each other, I hit one in one foot with black paint, and the other foot with red. A second later, he was yanked down and hauled all the way over to the truck where I was waiting with active purple paint to pull him out of sight. Soon, he was tied and gagged as well, with his wrists secured to the exhaust pipe of the truck as he lay on his face.
The next guy eventually came around the side, looking for his buddy. Before he could find anything, I hit him as well and had him in the same position under the opposite truck. The two men could see each other, grunting with annoyance through the gags.
And so it continued. One by one, I made my way through the outskirts of the skating park, securing as many of these random goons as I could. It would’ve been impossible without Ryder’s help, telling me exactly where and when to go to avoid being seen. All the while, I could hear the Fell-Touched guys growing more and more annoyed by the lack of progress. They had not, however, noticed that their men were disappearing. Not yet, anyway.
Finally, there were no more I could easily get to without being seen by others. Which meant it was time to move on to phase two. Or rather, phase three. Phase two had been getting Inessa out of sight, but she seemed to have handled that on her own, because I still couldn’t find her and Ryder had no idea where she was even with his camera view.
Just as I had that thought, Mister Harmful bellowed in the distance, “Okay, enough of this! Hey cunt! You either come out now, or lose some fans. Let’s say six to start, huh? That sounds fair! You got five seconds to show yourself! One… two…”
Without missing a beat, I went sprinting that way, using green paint to speed myself up. Just as I came around the corner, I used a blue square on the ground to launch myself high into the air, activating a pair of orange criss-crossed sword shapes on my back for protection. At the same time, I aimed down, sending a spray of orange protective paint over the assembled hostages just as I went sailing past them.
“Dude, you can count to five?!” The blurted words escaped me as I landed in a crouch on top of a lamp post that was meant to illuminate the skating area. “Well, that’s one bet I lost. If you can multiply, I might have to get a part-time job to pay off those losses.”
Quivering with rage as he glared up at me. Mister Harmful snarled, “Ohhh you little fuck.” But it was both him and Uncle Friendly who shouted together,
“Kill that piece of shit!”