Okay, this certainly hadn’t gone the way Setrea expected it to. Yes, she had known that simply injecting her stolen knock-out drug into the obviously evil boy without waiting for his sister to talk him down would be controversial. But she certainly hadn’t expected it to make the overall situation worse. Why wouldn’t his zombies fall down when he wasn’t around to actively control them? Wasn’t that how it worked with everything else? Why would his suddenly be completely different?
All those thoughts and more ran through her mind while Broadway was kneeling in front of her brother’s body, shaking him almost violently while shouting for him to wake up. But Setrea already knew that wouldn’t do any good. The drug she had injected him with was too potent. That was the point, after all. He was supposed to stay asleep. And now… well, now they had an even bigger problem than before. If there was no way to wake him up and make him shut off the zombies, this place was going to turn into a massacre.
Pack had turned away from the window, looking straight at Grandstand herself. “We have to do something. Paintball’s team is getting as many of those people out as they can, but they can’t really stop those monsters for very long. If they can all teleport and just keep running under Jason’s ‘kill everything in sight’ orders, this… this could be really bad.” She paused briefly before adding, a bit pointedly, “That is, if you’re not just about to run away.”
“It’s my fault those things are still a problem,” Setrea shot back immediately. “I might not have the rock solid moral standing that a thief from La Casa has, but I’m not about to walk away from a bunch of innocent people being slaughtered, either. We all have our lines.”
“I don’t really care what your line is,” Broadway put in abruptly, looking up from the boy as she finally gave up on waking him. “All I care about is stopping those things before my brother ends up being responsible for a fucking massacre.”
“What about those gems attached to him?” Setrea asked pointedly, staring at the four-inch-wide ruby in the middle of his chest, as well as the smaller black, two blue, two green, and one amber-colored stones under his throat and against his shoulders, hips, and over his navel, respectively. “What if those are keeping the zombies going or… something?”
“I tried to take them off,” Broadway started. “But they wouldn’t bu–” She was cut off abruptly, as the red stone began to glow. In the same moment, the boy’s hand snapped up to close around her throat tightly. Recoiling and choking a bit, Broadway blurted a weak, “Stop! What–thought–thought you said he’d–” She abruptly teleported to one side, before slumping over to hold her own throat. “Thought you said he’d be unconscious for hours!”
Before Grandstand could reply, she felt something fly through the air at her from behind. Several somethings, in fact. Spinning that way, she ducked and twisted, forcing two of the objects to miss her, though the third hit her arm and stayed there. It was an amber stone, like the one attached to Jason’s stomach. It stayed locked against her arm, even as she went to grab it. Yanking hard accomplished nothing aside from pulling painfully on her own skin.
“Oh, he is,” a voice spoke up. A figure stood there, near the hole they had all climbed up through. She was clearly female, in her mid-teens and wearing what looked like a long red raincoat and a black cloth mask that left her mouth and chin exposed, along with dark goggles. She raised a hand to point at them, and Grandstand could see five different rings there, one on each finger. The ring on her thumb had a yellow/amber stone on it, the one on her index finger was blue, then red, then green, and finally a black one sat on her pinkie. It was the red one that glowed then, which was matched by another glow from the red stone on Jason’s chest.
“But that doesn’t mean he’s useless,” the girl half-snarled. With that, her hand snapped to one side, and Jason abruptly lunged to his feet before throwing himself at Pack. The La Casa Touched was taken by surprise, falling sideways with the boy on top of her. Her lizard-animals rushed to intercede, but were cut off as the fire-zombie from downstairs abruptly appeared in a rush of flames and ash, forcing them to recoil.
Grandstand, for her part, immediately focused on Manifesting Alistae in order to push everyone’s attention away from her so she could deal with this little girl quickly and decisively. Yet, even as she tried that, the woman felt a sudden rush of intense pain in her head that made her double over with a yelp. The amber stone that had attached itself to her arm and refused to be removed was glowing.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t try that if I was you.” There was obvious amusement in the girl’s voice. She showed her hand, where the matching ring was also gleaming brightly. “Try to use your powers without my permission, and bad things happen. That’s what my yellow stones do. It’s pretty fun, huh? I mean, for me. Who really cares about you, honestly?”
Pack was still struggling under the taller, stronger boy as he tried to choke her. The lizards were trying to spread out to get around the zombie so they could get to her, but weren’t having much luck. And Grandstand apparently couldn’t use her power with the damn stone attached to her arm. Well, power or no power, she wasn’t helpless. Immediately, she brought one of her pistols up and took aim. In another second, she would end thi–
“Jennica?!” The shout made Setrea stop, as Broadway pointed at the other girl. “Is–is that you?”
The name made the girl in question start a bit, clearly taken by surprise. Gaze snapping that way, she blurted, “Wh–do I know you? Wait… what?” For the first time since she had revealed herself, the figure seemed taken aback and uncertain. “Who the fuck are you?”
Pivoting, Broadway sent a blast of concentrated sound toward Pack and Jason. It struck the boy, knocking him off her while giving Pack a chance to roll out of the way. Instantly, her gorilla-lizard positioned himself in front of her, snarling at the zombie, Jason himself, and the masked girl who was apparently behind all this. Jennica. Whoever that was.
“Fuck it,” Setrea muttered, taking aim once more. Whatever was going on here, they could figure it out once she made sure this girl wasn’t a threat.
Jennica, however, abruptly snapped without looking at her, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you. See the black stones?” At those words, the one just under Jason’s throat began to glow with a purplish light as he stood half-slumped with his eyes closed, like a robot or something that had been turned off. There was also another one attached to Pack’s arm, where Jennica had apparently thrown it at the same time as when she had hit Grandstand with the yellow one.
“Any injury you try to inflict on me, happens to everyone with those stones instead,” the girl informed them snidely. “So go ahead, shoot me. See if I care.”
Okay, well this was getting more complicated by the second. Apparently Jason wasn’t responsible for this whole thing. He was being… what, controlled by the stones that were attached to him? Stones that came from this girl, Jennica. Setrea couldn’t activate either of her Manifestations through the blinding pain that came when she tried, and any attempt to actually hurt this girl would just be passed off to Jason and Pack. In short, the whole situation was a fucking mess. Worse, she was still no closer to being able to interrogate whichever of these two knew something about the other person who was vying for a spot on the Scions. Setrea might have preferred not to let a bunch of innocent people get slaughtered for nothing, but her main goal here was to find out who murdered Jolene. So far, she knew it was someone who was trying to get in with Pencil and Cup, and that those two were running some sort of contest. The person behind the fire-zombies was another part of it, and they had to have interacted with the other person. The person she was really after. She didn’t care if that ended up being Jason, this Jennica girl, or some third suddenly-revealed mastermind. Whoever it was, she was getting some damned answers out of them. One way or another.
“It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” the girl was gloating. “Anything that gets hit with a black stone takes all the damage that was supposed to hit me. You get a yellow stone, you don’t get to use your powers without a fuckload of pain. Red stone, I get to control you. Wanna know what the blue and green stones do? Keep pushing me and you’ll find out.”
“Jennica,” Broadway was saying while taking a step that way, “you need to stop. What the hell are you trying to do? What did you do to your brother?”
“My brother?” the other girl gave a short, barked laugh. “Obviously, you don’t know me very well after all. He’s not my brother, he’s just some guy who lived with the same family I lived with. He’s nobody. Except for my ticket into the big leagues. The Scions wanna see someone do something special? How do you think you’re going to react when I pull off a massacre like this and manage to blame someone else for it? It’s perfect, and there’s no way any other dipshit’s gonna top it.”
Other dipshit. Setrea instantly zeroed in on that. This girl knew something about her competition. She could tell her something about who he really was.
“You really think we’re just gonna let you do that?” Pack demanded while clearly keeping a wary eye on the zombie, who was just standing there as though awaiting new instructions. “I don’t care who you think you are, you don’t get to murder a stadium full of people just to show off for a bunch of other psychopaths. And Jason can’t take the blame when we tell people it was you.”
“Well darn,” Jennica sarcastically lamented while kicking at the floor, “if you’re gonna ruin my fun like that, I guess I’ve got no choice…” She looked up then, a smile spreading across the exposed lower portion of her face. “I’ll just have to kill all of you.”
In that instant, the amber stone on Jason’s chest glowed, as two more clouds of ashes suddenly flew into the room. They reformed quickly into a couple more fire-zombies, one of which threw itself toward Broadway, while the other went toward Setrea.
So, sure, things weren’t great. She couldn’t use her power, and she doubted this thing would care about being shot. None of them had cared that much before, and they probably weren’t going to start now. Worse, shooting the bitch herself would apparently only end in hurting her own… well, allies was a bit of a strong word, but still. They were working together, and Setrea didn’t really like the idea of hurting them. Especially when there was no guarantee that it would accomplish anything. Now there were three zombies, a girl who couldn’t be hurt, and the innocent guy she was apparently puppeting somehow. Who, for the record, was unconscious and had no chance of fighting back for himself.
In short, things could have been better.
An instant later, just as Setrea was taking aim at the knee of the zombie who was coming for her, in an attempt to at least slow it down, a small form rocketed up out of the hole leading downstairs and planted itself against the ceiling. Or rather, himself.
“Hi, guys!” Paintball announced, seemingly cheerfully, while standing upside down. The zombies, the puppeted Jason, and Jennica had all stopped short to look that way reflexively. “Sorry it took me so long to get up here, you would not believe the traffic. Oh, and the part where I had to stop and listen to your evil plan so I knew what was going on.” He added that with a thumbs up toward Jennica, which was accompanied by a purple thumbs up that appeared in the middle of his chest. Upside down so it could be seen properly, of course. Which was followed by a slightly awkward moment as the boy slowly turned his hand around so that his thumb would be pointed up as well.
For her part, the evil little girl giggled. It came off sounding more than a little unhinged. “Oh, goody, it’s you. You think you’re really funny, huh? You know how fast I’ll get accepted by Pencil if I bring you in so they can play with you? They might make me second-in-command.”
“Jennica!” Broadway blurted, still keeping one hand raised toward the zombie who had been coming toward her, just in case he started moving again. “Would you stop and look at what you’re doing?! Why would you want to join the Scions? Why would you want to hurt your brother and blame him for–for this?! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Clearly glaring that way, the girl snarled, “Okay, I don’t know why you think saying my name like we’re supposed to be friends will suddenly make me see the light and turn this whole thing into a great big Care Bear hug pile or something, but knock it off. I don’t know you. I don’t care about you. I don’t care about any of you. I’ve been treated like shit from the moment I was born. My parents didn’t want me, nobody wanted me. Well, you know what? I don’t want them either. You? These other people, the idiot up on the ceiling, every fucking person in this stadium? You can all go to hell. It’s time for me to get mine. Fuck all of you.”
Before Setrea, Broadway, or anyone else could respond to that, Paintball piped up. “Yeah, that’s about what I figured.” He clearly used blue paint on his shoes, springing himself forward and over the girl’s head before landing in front of her. “I wish you weren’t evil. We could’ve teamed up, you know? Come on, think about it. You’ve got all those different color rings connected to those different stones you throw around? And they all do something different based on the color? Yellow, blue, red, green, black. You’re even using most of the same colors I do, it would’ve been perfect. We could’ve had so much fun together.”
“Ehhhh,” Jennica drawled out, “I think we can still have fun together.” With that, she brought her hand up. A red stone appeared in the air, clearly projected out of the matching ring on her hand even as she sent it flying right at Paintball.
An assortment of shouted warnings went out, even as Paintball himself dove sideways. The stone corrected to follow him, but Setrea was already acting. Pistol extended, she fired once, nailing the stone in mid-air and shattering it just before the thing would have caught up with the boy.
Unfortunately, no sooner had she done that, then her entire body exploded in pain, making her drop the gun and double over with cry. She dimly heard Jennica taunting her by saying something about being able to control the amber stone manually too, then caught the sound of Paintball saying something.
The pain abruptly stopped, as Jennica turned to the boy. “I’m sorry, what did you say? The screaming was a little distracting.”
From where he was lying on the floor, Paintball repeated, “I said, that’s far enough. I only needed you to take a couple steps forward.” Just as the girl was clearly processing that, he gave a loud, sharp whistle.
Instantly, something slammed up through the floor directly below Jennica’s feet. The floor itself broke away instantly, giving Setrea and the others enough of a glimpse of the underside of it (what would have been the ceiling of the room below) to see that it had clearly been painted pink. They also saw what had broken through using that pink circle. It was a narrow, six foot tall ruby and silver box, which had captured the girl inside, cutting her off from sight. They could hear the girl, screaming at them as she pounded the sides of the box.
“Boy,” Alloy announced while rising into the room behind it, “she’s pleasant, isn’t she?”
The two partners exchanged a high five, all while Jason and the zombies remained completely still. Paintball, turning away from Alloy, explained, “We found the room where she locked up a couple of the park managers.”
Nodding, Alloy added, “Would you believe we only found them because I thought I saw a raccoon waving at me? Anyway, the guys in there said that it seemed like she could only activate the stones she was looking at. So, in there, she can’t look at any of them.”
The pounding and shouting from inside the box abruptly stopped, before Jennica’s voice called, “Maybe I can’t see, but I can still hear. And that’s not quite right. Remember the green ring? It lets me go aaaanywhere one of my other green stones is. In other words–”
In the midst of that spiel, Setrea had already snapped her pistol up. She fired twice in rapid succession before the girl could say anything else. Each shot skimmed either side of the unconscious boy who stood at attention, shattering the green stones there. The shots drew blood, but not that much. Mostly she simply grazed the boy. Even Broadway, who started to shout out in shock and anger when she saw Setrea pointing the gun that way, stopped short and stared.
“Damn,” Paintball put in, “you’re a good shot.”
A slight pause followed that, before Jennica let out a loud, frustrated scream. Then there was a sudden flash of bright green light from within the box. When no other sound followed, Alloy opened a hole in it, then transformed the box back into two marbles, revealing nothing inside. Jennica had teleported away somewhere. She was gone. And with that, the various colored stones all vanished from Setrea, Jason, and the others, while Jason himself collapsed back to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut. He was still unconscious.
“I uhh, guess that means she’s gone?” Pack managed, while touching one of her lizards protectively. “She must’ve had another green stone somewhere else.”
“Fuck!” Setrea blurted, spinning to punch a nearby wall hard enough to bruise her hand. “Damn it! She was my best shot! She was my best fucking shot to find out who the Scions’ other contest recruit is! I have to find that piece of shit!”
Broadway, who had fallen to her knees next to her brother to check on him, spoke up. “I’ll help you.” She looked up, meeting Setrea’s gaze. “I’ll help you find her and this guy you’re looking for. You help me stop her from joining the Scions, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we find the guy you need too.”
Just as Grandstand was about to respond to that, the sound of many police sirens, accompanied by several helicopters, filled the air. She glanced sideways toward the window, seeing several Star-Touched already starting to fill the stadium below. “Fine,” Setrea agreed. “But first, we should get out of here.
“Something tells me those guys won’t be in the mood to hear us say we were trying to help.”