Sarez

All-Out 3-05 (Heretical Edge 2)

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Like a pair of very enthusiastic stones (Herbie’s sisters maybe), Miranda and I fell through the air after leaping off the roof of the casino hotel. The wind rushed past me as I centered my gaze on the car that was pulling away with our target inside. My fingers tightened around my staff, and I reached my other hand out to catch onto Miranda’s. Here went nothing. 

Jerking the staff horizontal above my head, I triggered the boost. Now instead of falling straight down, Miranda and I were falling at an angle toward the departing SUV. And the cars that were escorting it. Yeah, there seemed to be two in front and three behind. All of them black with obvious armor paneling and deeply tinted windows. It was like this guy was the president or something. 

And Miranda and I were still falling. Falling with style, but still falling. As many powers as I had picked up over the past year, I didn’t actually have one that would let me survive pancaking against the ground from that high up. Luckily, I had other things. 

Gripping Miranda by the hand tightly, I swung my arm forward as we fell, throwing the girl ahead of me. Then I inverted the staff. It was out of energy by then, but I had a trick. Namely, a spell that Jophiel had taught me. With a thought, I used my image inscription power to create the rune on my staff and triggered it. Instantly the staff was back to full charge. I couldn’t do that too many times in a row, because it drained me to do it. But it was still a handy trick at a time like this.  

With my staff newly recharged, I pointed the end down while triggering a series of short, measured bursts to slow my descent. Using every last bit of energy that I had just given it, I slowed my fall just enough to drop onto the roof of the rear-most SUV without killing myself. I rolled with the impact, nearly going right off the front of the damn thing before catching myself, sprawled out across the top. The vehicle was armored enough that my impact didn’t even dent it. 

The second I came down on the roof with a loud clatter, I heard shouting from inside. Apparently my loud crash landing hadn’t gone unnoticed. 

Meanwhile, Miranda was on the roof of the next car forward. She had simply created a duplicate of herself while falling, one that didn’t have all that momentum. The duplicate had appeared on the roof of that vehicle before the one who was falling simply disappeared before impact. Now she was up there and I was back here. And neither of us were on the vehicle we actually needed. We’d have to fix that. 

First, I had to deal with the guys in this vehicle. Apparently they had decided that having a hitchhiker on their roof wasn’t a good idea. They expressed this dislike by electrifying the entire damn vehicle. Fortunately, while it didn’t exactly tickle, my combination of pain resistance and electricity resistance meant that it didn’t do much more than make me grunt. It wasn’t super fun, but definitely didn’t have the impact they wanted. 

Next, they started swerving from side to side. We were out of the casino parking lot by then and pulling onto the street with a squeal of protesting tires as they swept the back end of the vehicle to the left. Rather than just let myself be flung off, however, I sent my staff back to its spot on my belt with a thought and focused on my fingernails. They grew a couple inches and became as hard as steel. Quickly, I used my strength to drive them into the hard metal of the car roof, clinging tightly to it as the vehicle swung back-and-forth trying to dislodge me. On either side, I could see other cars with drivers and passengers alike pointing and staring. I had no idea what they thought was going on here or what the Bystander Effect would let them retain. Right now, my attention was a little diverted. 

Namely, it was diverted by the semi-translucent man who floated up through the roof and stood there right behind me. He had a gun in one hand, solidifying before pointing it my way to pull the trigger. But I’d already put a portal up with one hand, sending the bullet right back at the guy from behind. He twisted, but it still grazed his shoulder. By that point, I had rolled back to my feet. With him up here, the vehicle wasn’t swinging around quite so much. It still did a little bit, but my enhanced sense of balance coped with it without much input from me. 

Focusing on the guy in front of me, I swung my staff after calling it back to my hand, but the man simply turned intangible so the weapon passed through him. Then he punched me in the face. I staggered back a step from the impact, and the car suddenly swung wildly to the left, nearly plowing into a sedan that got too close. They were trying to throw me off, but once again, my enhanced balance kicked in and I compensated before snapping my staff back the other direction. Again, the man went intangible and I whiffed, damn it. That time, I snapped my head to the side before he could punch me. Ghost-fire, I needed ghost-fire. Having Triss here would’ve been really useful, considering she could ignite her claws with it. 

But I didn’t have her. What I did have, however, was a few really good teachers and a paranoid older brother who repeatedly drilled into my head that I had to be prepared for any situation. So, as the guy in front of me flashed a brief grin about my attacks totally whiffing, I moved my thumb to a small, prepared symbol on one spot of the staff. As I muttered the command word, the weapon in my hand turned semi-translucent. I could still feel it, but it was nearly invisible. My opponent’s eyes snapped down that way, just in time for me to smack him right in his intangible chin with the shaft. That time, it connected, and he staggered back a step. Before he could recover, I reversed my grip on the staff and drove it right through his chest with a quick, hard thrust. He doubled over, and I pivoted while snapping my leg out in a kick that sent the man off my staff. And off the vehicle entirely. His body bounced and rolled along the pavement. 

Dropping back down to my knees while grabbing onto the metal roof, I focused on ignoring the rush of pleasure that shot through me. Turned out that the fear of falling off a speeding vehicle was a pretty good motivator for that. 

Also a pretty good motivator? The guy who showed up on the back of a motorcycle and jumped onto the roof with me (there was another driver on the motorcycle that he’d left). He had an uzi or something like that in one hand, but as he aimed it my way, I shoved myself up with both hands, kicking out with one foot from my prone position. I was too far away to hit the guy… but not with portals! In mid-kick, I summoned one right in front of my foot, so that it came out to hit the guy in the side of his wrist. The gun went off, sending a spray of bullets just past my ear, while I yanked my foot back out of the portal and dismissed it, rolling backward and to my feet before the man could correct his aim. Without a word, I snapped my hand out, summoning a small coin that I’d already enchanted. The coin flipped through the air before exploding into a flash-bang. Yeah, basically the first spell I’d ever learned. Sometimes the classics were the best. And I’d learned to make my particular flash-bangs a lot… flashier.

While the man was still staggering from the blinding light in his eyes, I added to his problems by summoning a gel ball of nauseating liquid that flew right into face. 

He threw his arms up defensively, but it was too late. The ball of liquid had exploded, leaving the man retching and coughing. He stumbled a bit, clearly completely out of it, and I just waited for a second to see the best opening before giving a quick, sharp swipe of the staff, cutting through his throat with the bladed end. 

Rather than just letting his rapidly dying body fall, I took two quick steps that way, kicking out to send him flying right back to the motorcycle that had dropped him off. He crashed into the driver, knocking him off and sending the vehicle clattering along the ground. 

Okay, that was just about enough of playing around up here. After waiting for that wave of pleasure to pass, I spun back toward the front of the vehicle. With one hand, I created a small portal in front of myself, with the other end ahead and to the left. Timing things just right, I triggered the kinetic-mine laying part of the staff, setting it to use all the energy it had accumulated before hurling it through the portal. It came out the other end flying back toward the vehicle. Specifically, toward the front left tire. Even as the staff hit the tire and deposited the mine, I was already sprinting forward. I ran down the windshield while the men inside shouted. With a thought, I summoned my weapon back to one hand and triggered the explosive while hurling myself forward off the hood. The speeding vehicle’s momentum was instantly halted as it was flipped up and backward behind me, ending up skidding to the side on its roof with a shower of sparks. Like the motorcycle a moment earlier, but bigger. 

Meanwhile, I was left leaping through the air just above the street with the next vehicle too far ahead to land on. I had momentum from being on top of the other car, but it was fading fast and the one ahead of me was pulling away. Nor did I have the speed to catch up with it on foot. At least, not in this form…

With a thought, I triggered my Seosten-absorbed boost. As the world around me seemed to slow down, I did two things simultaneously. First, I sent my outer clothes into the little compartment inside the tiny (on the outside anyway) pocket of the Seosten bodysuit that I was wearing under them. Second, I focused on shifting my body into a very different shape. 

With the help of the boost, the change only took a moment and by the time I landed on the pavement, I was in full werelion form. The impact barely registered, and I was already running at top speed. Which, for me in that form with all my enhancements was around sixty miles an hour. Add in the boost and I could kick it up to about eighty in very short bursts. Which I did, hurling my lion self after the next car in a rush of tawny fur. 

There were two Mirandas on the roof, dealing with another guy. From the look of the body that I went sprinting past, he wasn’t the first guy they’d faced. As I closed the distance, my mouth opened and I let out the loudest, most terrifying roar I could. 

That got his attention. The man’s gaze snapped over his shoulder toward me just as both Mirandas drove their shields into his stomach and the back of his neck respectively. They turned in unison, throwing the man off the vehicle to the road, where he bounced and tumbled before coming to a stop at an odd angle. He wouldn’t be getting up again, a fact proven as a pair of glowing auras appeared around my friend’s twin bodies. 

Horns were honking all around us. I could see people leaning out of their cars with phones up to record… whatever it was they thought they were seeing. Would the Bystander Effect allow them to see a lion chasing a car at eighty miles an hour while identical twins fought people on top of said car? I was going to guess it would probably… adjust some of that just a little bit.

Speaking of running eighty miles an hour, before my boost wore off, I gave a short roar of warning toward Miranda. Then I lunged and swiped a single massive paw toward the left rear tire with my dagger-like claws extended. The claws ripped right through not only the tire, but the entire wheel and its housing. The whole thing broke right off, and that end of the car slammed down onto the pavement, throwing up a shower of sparks along with the sound of screaming, tortured metal. It spun out toward the left with the broken wheel as a pivot point, sliding just out of my way as I ran straight past. Miranda (only one of her was visible at the moment) leapt off to the right, landing on top of a nearby bus. 

Unfortunately, the thing kept spinning around while continuing down the freeway at breakneck speed. Which meant it was coming back around behind me just as the driver overcompensated, losing control so that it flipped over onto its side and tumbled end over end along the freeway right at my back. Like the boulder that chased Indiana Jones, only a big SUV version. 

But I had my item sense power, so I knew exactly where it was and how it was positioned without looking. I kept running, waiting for the car’s insane momentum to carry it closer. At the last possible second, as the partially crumpled vehicle’s latest bounce along the road carried it right above my head at a sideways slant, I acted by… shifting back into my human shape. My staff was in my hand already at a thought, and I triggered the blast from it straight down while still in mid-lunge from my lion form. 

The staff boost shot me straight up into the air, where I passed perfectly through the shattered window of the passenger’s side of the vehicle and into the car itself while it was in mid-tumble. The occupants were taken completely by surprise as I passed through their compartment and toward the opposite window before they could think about reacting. On the way, I threw a handful of nauseating liquid at them. Because what the people in this car that was bouncing and tumbling along the freeway at high speed needed was more help being sick. 

As I shot through the driver’s side rear window, the vehicle hit the ground beneath me with a terrifying crash. In mid-air, I shifted back into my lion form, landing on the car’s side to knock it fully onto its hood, then lunged off it and kept running. Miranda, who was still on that bus, jumped free before landing on my back. And we were off. One vehicle still stood between us and the one our new friend Sarez was on. Aaand that one vehicle was shooting at us. Bullets were spraying our way, tearing up the ground around my feet. A couple hit home, but between the adrenaline and general werelion toughness, I didn’t care all that much. They weren’t silver or anything. They were just annoying. 

Then I saw some kind of large gray and black cannon-rifle stick out the back window. The end of the barrel was several inches wide. Okay, that one might be a little more dangerous. 

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. I had Miranda riding on my back, and she immediately leaned forward, holding her shield up. A glowing forcefield was projected from it, appearing in front of me and moving along with us as I ran. The energy shield manifested just as the big gun fired a shot that bounced right off it with a deafening boom. Two more shots came in quick succession, each equally blocked. The shield was holding, for the moment. But I could see it flicker just a tiny bit under each of those powerful shots. This couldn’t hold up forever. Worse, I couldn’t boost anymore right then. I needed a break before I’d be able to do it again for anything more than the second it took to shift forms. And the cars ahead of us were already pulling away. I could do fifty to sixty without boosting, but eighty to ninety? Forget about it. And those guys were hauling ass. For some reason, they didn’t want to stay and talk to us. Weird. 

Luckily, Miranda was already on it. After deflecting a couple more shots, she lowered the shield, took a breath, and screamed. Her scream was loud for me. Painfully loud, really. But it was a lot worse for the guy sticking the gun out the back of that car. I saw him drop back in the vehicle, rifle falling from his hands to bounce along the ground as the sheer force of the sonic attack knocked him onto his ass and shattered all the windows in that SUV. 

With the gun out of the way, Miranda reared back and hurled her actual physical shield. It flew through the air, passing through the broken windshield and into the vehicle itself. A second later, a new Miranda appeared where the shield was. Apparently Miranda had figured out how to make duplicates appear not only around her, but also at her shield’s location even if it wasn’t with her. Useful. 

There was a brief scuffle before the driver of the SUV and one other guy went tumbling out. The Miranda in the vehicle slowed down just a bit, allowing her other self and me to catch up. As we got there, my Miranda leapt up onto the back of the car, and I jumped as well, shifting into my human self in mid-lunge before landing in a crouch beside my best friend. 

The Miranda inside the car hit the gas, and we were off once more. The SUV directly ahead of us was the one that had Sarez. I could see the guy sitting in the backseat looking over his shoulder at us. His gaze met mine, and he said something to the driver. 

Faster. He told the guy to go faster. 

We sped up too. Miranda and I crouched, watching the car ahead of us intently ahead as it weaved in and out of traffic. One of the leading SUVs pulled to the side and slowed down to let us catch up, clearly intent on blocking for Sarez’s vehicle. The windows went down, and several guns opened fire. But Miranda had already taken the shield from her duplicate down below, passed up to her through the window. As the shots came from the car pulling alongside us, she summoned another forcefield on that side, catching the incoming bullets. 

The other car that had been ahead of Sarez pulled back as well, on the opposite side. They were each flanking us, taking shots while trying to give the man himself time to get away in his own vehicle. 

Miranda and I looked to one another, each nodding before she used her shield to create a forcefield on either side of us, protection from both vehicles. As the hail of gunfire tore into those shields, I knew they wouldn’t last long. But they didn’t have to. They only had to last for a few seconds. 

While the shields flickered and sputtered, I raised one hand. Triggering the button on my staff, I sent a cloud of sand out of the tiny portal at one end. The sand formed up into a ball around my raised fist, turning white-hot after a few brief seconds of concentration. Then it split off into two small clouds, each flying in opposite directions. The clouds of sand, giving off enough heat to melt through metal, collided with the tires of the vehicles. With an explosion of sound that was even louder than all that gunfire, they were both taken out of the chase, spinning off to either side. 

One left. Sarez’s car. And we were catching up. He was clearly desperate to escape, his driver taking absurd risks as he cut in and out of different lanes, slamming the SUV into cars here and there in his rush. But the driving Miranda was keeping up, swerving around the bits of debris and entirely stopped cars that the other vehicle left in its wake. We were getting closer and closer.

Miranda saw it first. “Portal!” she shouted, pointing ahead to a glowing green shimmering square that the SUV was driving straight toward. “He’s going for the portal!” 

“Oh, fuck no,” I blurted. “Sonic that window!” With that, I took a few running steps forward, triggering almost the entire store of energy in my staff into a single boost. It launched me up and forward, rocketing me through the air. In mid-flight, I flipped over, looking down and forward toward the back of the SUV. It was almost at the portal, almost there…

Right on cue, Miranda’s sonic scream filled the air, shattering the SUV’s back window. The instant she did, while I was still in freefall from launching myself, I launched the grapple from my staff. It shot that way, and straight into the now-exposed vehicle. 

“No… you… don’t!” I snapped in mid-fall, as my grappling hook slammed into Sarez’s shoulder. The man cried out in surprise and pain, as I dropped toward the ground. The energy cord that connected the grapple to my staff went taut, and started to yank me that way. But I triggered the last of the energy in the staff in the opposite direction. Instead of yanking me around with him, Sarez was hauled backward out of his ride an instant before it vanished through that portal. The man hit the ground and tumbled wildly. 

I, meanwhile, shifted back into my lion form one more time. I still landed hard, but the lion could take it. My lion body basically rolled with it, bruises and pain exploding everywhere until I finally sprawled to a stop on my side. The motion finally stopped and I… I just needed to nap for a–

“Flick!” Miranda was there, or one of her was. She’d stopped the car and was crouched beside me. “Flick, are you okay?!” 

Realizing that at some point while half-conscious, I’d shifted back to my normal self, I groggily opened my eyes. “Hmmm…? Umm.. uhh…” Blinking a few times, I sat up, groaning a little. Yeah, that hurt. Blinking around, I could see other cars stopping, people jumping out to come find out what the hell was going on. “Did… did we win?” 

The Miranda above me turned a bit to gesture toward the nearby buildings. “He ran off. I’ve got a few me’s looking for him. We already broke his teleport toys, so he’s on foot. And the others’ll be here any second. He won’t get far.” 

While she was talking, I reached down to touch my staff. Gus, still in his grapple form, was covered in blood. Sarez’s blood. My fingers brushed through it, and I focused on the Harpy’s blood-tracking power I’d gained so long ago, back on the Meregan world. 

Instantly, I knew the truth. With a nod, I murmured, “Yeah, he won’t get far.” 

Then I turned, rising to stab the Jaq-blade end of my staff right into the space beside Miranda. There was a grunt of surprise, before Sarez himself appeared, his invisibility spell fading. An invisibility spell that had shielded him from my item sense, but not my blood tracking power. The blade was through his other shoulder, and he collapsed to the ground as I gave him a shove that way. 

“Not very far at all,” I finished, as Miranda finished jumping in surprise. 

Laying on the ground, the man gave a dark chuckle. A bitter, angry chuckle. “You think this is over? You think you won? Girls, if you want to save the children and the vampire, you’re going to have to go get them. 

“In Canada.” 

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All-Out 3-04 (Heretical Edge 2)

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The dealer in question was apparently named Sarez. He was a dark blue-skinned humanoid with white spots on his neck and forehead, along with three evenly-spaced eyes instead of two. He was also not on the casino floor anymore, though he was in the building still. Going by the cameras, he had made his way to the staff kitchen and was having food with a few others. 

Asenath wanted to go grab the guy immediately, but Bol initially made her back down with the reminder that we were in their casino and their own people would take care of getting information out of him. We were just supposed to watch the security feed while they picked the guy up. Which led to all of us staring impatiently at the screens for what felt like way too long even to me. For Shiori and Senny with their mother missing, it had to have felt like hours

“Come on!” Shiori blurted out loud while pointing at the screen of the nearest laptop. “What’s going on, why don’t they grab that guy and drag him out already? He’s right there, and he’s gotta know where Mom is! What’re they doing, letting him finish his meal first or something? Wait, is this a last meal he doesn’t know about?” 

Bol, who was holding some kind of small golden orb that was apparently a communication device, tucked it away while responding with a flat, “Unfortunately, there is a problem. Our people ran passive magic checks over Sarez and he appears to be in possession of a particular artifact which allows him to mark any person. From that point, if any marked person approaches him with hostile intent, or even targets him directly with anything like a teleportation spell or attack, he’ll sense it ahead of time. We don’t know how long he’s had it–” 

Miranda groaned, “But it’s probably been long enough for him to mark everyone on your security team, if not everyone on your staff. So if they go to grab him, or teleport him anywhere, or whatever, he’ll know and get the hell out of Dodge. That’s why he feels safe enough to sit around eating lunch or whatever. Because the second you come after him, he’ll just bounce.” 

“So let us do it,” Asenath told Bol and Eldridge, giving the men a sharp look. “We’re new, there’s no way he could have marked us. We’ll grab the guy like I wanted to in the first place. Bobbi still has to get close to him anyway to make sure he’s the right one. I mean…” She glanced at the laptop screen, showing her teeth with a low snarl. “He is, but it’d be nice to have confirmation.” 

“That’s our other problem,” Bol replied with a snarl of his own that showed just how frustrated he already was. “Look at his wrist when he reaches for his drink again. There, see the silver bracelet? It’s got a partner on his ankle. They’ve got what you call Double Jump spells on them. The second he feels threatened, he’ll activate one, probably with a voice command. The Double Jump means it’ll teleport him twice. Once inside the building, and once outside of it.”

“The first jump will take him to another place where he’s tampered with the anti-teleport security,” I murmured. “Like the one in here, but it could be anywhere in the building.” 

Eldridge nodded in agreement. “Sounds about right. Then this pain in the ass can teleport through that hole in the security to get outside the building. And the fact that he’s got two on probably means they’re keyed to each other. So if you take one off, it’ll trigger the other automatically. You’d have to the one from his wrist and the one from his ankle simultaneously, and too quickly for him to say the command word before you manage to get them off him. And they’re probably spelled against things like telekinetic or metallokinetic control. Which is just–”  

“Wecandoit!” That was December, jumping up and down with obvious excitement. Though whether it was at the prospect of being helpful, or just at doing something given how bored she was, I couldn’t say. She was gesturing back and forth between herself and Bobbi. “She’saStardrinker. They’rereallyfast. AndI’mreallyfasttoo. MyboostisboostedandIcanboostitmore. Sowecanbothbe reallyfastandgoget themagicthingsoffhim. Andwecandoitatthesametime. Cuzwe’rebothreallyfast.” 

“I think I followed that pretty well,” Miranda murmured. “But could that really work? They both just superspeed into the room and grab the teleport bracelets off that guy before he can react?”

“It could,” Bol thoughtfully replied while staring at the nearest screen. “And I believe it may be the best chance of making sure he doesn’t escape in the time we have to work with.”  

Asenath was already heading purposefully toward the door. “Right, so point us in the right direction. We’ll get close, send the speedsters in to make sure he can’t escape, then nail him to the wall.” Pausing, she added, “And I mean that figuratively… mostly. Okay, if nails are in the immediate vicinity, I won’t be held responsible for how literal it becomes. I’m just saying.” 

Miranda and I exchanged brief looks, before I offered her a thumbs up. “See?” I asked while following after Asenath. “We know how to make a trip to Vegas fun even without the gambling.”

“At this point,” Miranda informed me, “gambling seems like a downgrade in excitement.” 

So, Bol and the other Vestil escorted us to just down the hall from the room in question. Our guy was still in there, just enjoying his food while apparently unaware that he had already been found out. Which, given that little artifact of his that was supposed to let him know if anyone he’d marked was coming straight for him with hostile intent, made sense. But still, that was some patience on his part, to pull off something like that and then just sit there eating food while waiting for the lockdown to be over? 

Actually, if he could teleport out, why didn’t he? Was he hoping to keep his job here if they couldn’t figure out that he was the one who had done it? Or was he waiting for something else specific? Was there a certain time he was waiting for? Maybe someone else was going to arrive or… be available? Or maybe it was some thing that was being brought in? We’d have to ask as soon as we had him contained, because damn, that was really bothering me. 

Soon, we were set up in the hall. I could see the door ahead of us, and murmured in Bol’s direction, “I know we’re in a rush, but what exactly are this guy’s gifts, his powers? Besides using hold and pass magic. What are we about to walk in on? More importantly, what are we about to send Bobbi and December over there against when they grab those bracelets off him?” 

“Sarez is a Heaul,” came the answer. “Each of those white spots you see on his neck and forehead, and other parts of his body, can grow into a separate layer of armor you have to break through to get to anything vulnerable. Heaul can either stack their armor plates like that for more protection, or wait until you break through one, then activate another one. The stronger ones can grow back damaged shell spots fast enough that as long as they drag the fight out enough, they can keep cycling through fresh armor. And that third eye in the middle can do a paralyzing stare, as long as it’s looking at you and using it, you won’t be able to move.” 

Asenath nodded. “Right, well he can armor up all he wants, considering we have questions to ask. As for his paralyzing powers, we outnumber him and we’re hopefully about to take him by surprise.” She looked to December and Bobbi. “You two ready? We’ll be right behind you. The second you’ve got the bracelet and anklet off, bail and leave us room to grab him. Got it?” 

December’s head bobbed up and down so fast I seriously thought it might fall off. “Yupyupyupreadytobeusefulcuzwe’resupposedtobeusefulandifwe’renotusefulthenwhatareweevendoinghere–” From the corner of my eye, I saw Tabbris make a weird, funny face at her. She crossed her eyes, tilted her head, and puffed out her cheeks. It made December suddenly laugh, sputtering a little before actually slowing down a bit. “Imeanwe’reready. We’rereadytogo. Youknowassoon… asyousaytheword.” That was accompanied by a deliberate thumbs up toward Tabbris, who returned it with a giggle. 

We had one of the laptops letting us see the security screen, so that the two speedsters would know exactly where their target was. I held it up in front of them, while Asenath counted down from three. At the last second, the lights behind us went out. Not a surprise considering Bobbi had warned us it was coming. She needed the extra boost from that power. 

I also saw December touch something on her own wrist. There was what looked like a medical alert bracelet or something there, only with a dozen little dark blue gems. One of them dimmed as she touched it, just before Asenath reached zero. 

And then they were off. I could see a slight blur of motion from December, but almost nothing from Bobbi. They were just gone. Meanwhile, on the screen, Sarez suddenly fell over backward with what sounded like a blurted magical word. The trigger for his escape spells. But nothing happened. And we were already on our way. Asenath used her own speed, becoming a streak of color rushing ahead of us to reach the room even as the last syllable of his useless escape spell left the man’s lips. 

An instant later, I had passed through the doorway right behind Shiori, with Miranda just behind me. Tabbris had already recalled into me right as all this started, and Asenath was right in front of the man with her fist swinging for his face. December and Bobbi were in opposite corners. 

Unfortunately, not having his escape hatch apparently didn’t mean the man was totally vulnerable. Which we found out, as he suddenly blurted another word, and a concussive wave of force erupted from one of the rings on his hand. It slammed into all of us, sending us backwards. I was hurled out of the room entirely, crashing into the far wall while everyone else hit the walls inside the actual room. 

But it wasn’t just the pain of hitting the wall. There was something else to it too. Even as I slumped to the floor, I felt a strange… listless sensation. It wasn’t exhaustion or anything, it was just… a moment of not really caring about anything that was going on. I wanted to zone out and think about… birds. Birds sounded interesting. How did they fly, really? And why did they come in so many colors? It was a mating thing, right? But why were some bright and others were so–

Flick! Tabbris’s voice in my head snapped me out of it. Belatedly, I realized we were running down the hotel corridor. Wait, why were we running? 

Then I ‘remembered’, though it was less remembering and more having the past few seconds dumped into my head. As soon as I hit the wall and went out of it, Tabbris had taken control just in time to see Sarez flee through the door we had just been flung out of. He hit Bol, Eldridge, and the others with some kind of slow spell before taking off the other way. So Tabbris had given chase while inwardly screaming for me to wake up. And now that I knew what was going on, she relinquished the reins, just as I saw Sarez hit the door leading to the stairwell. It slammed shut right behind him, and I saw three different semi-transparent glowing chains appear around it. A spell to keep it shut. 

I didn’t even hesitate. Grabbing the knob, I turned while shoving against the door and the lock spell shattered under my ‘passage through locked doors’ power. I hit the stairwell in time to see the guy heading up instead of down. He glanced back, a gun appearing in his hand. In the same instant, I felt my body suddenly jerk to a halt as his third eye focused on me. He took a second to aim, then fired. Just as he did, I summoned a portal in front of my face, sending the other end of it back toward the guy’s leg. I hoped to slow him down, but the bullet barely seemed to do much. A second later, the reason became apparent, as a spot of white broke out through his pant leg where the bullet had struck, expanding outward to form a full suit of armor around the man. 

His hand snapped up, another ring on his hand glowing as a ball of white-hot fire appeared there before it was sent flying my way. Instantly, I focused on absorbing all that energy. By the time the explosion of fire faded, my whole body felt uncomfortably warm as it fought to contain that much power, and the sound of Sarez’s footsteps was fading as he ran.

“Oh no you don’t,” I muttered, already calling my staff instantly to my hand. Transferring all that power I’d absorbed into the staff itself to instantly charge it, I sent a burst out through the bottom to launch myself over the edge of the stairwell and into the open space leading all the way down to the floor far, far below. Before I could drop very far, Gus was launched upward in his grapple form, slamming into the ceiling far overhead to stop my fall. Then I expended the rest of the charge I’d just absorbed, channeling it into a boost from the other end of the staff that sent me rocketing all the way upward, past stairwell after stairwell. 

Where were the others? Were they okay? I couldn’t think about that. They’d be fine. I had been fine, eventually. I just had to catch this guy, right now, before he somehow managed to get away. That had to be why he was going up instead of down, right? He had some kind of backup escape plan. Another one. 

He also must’ve been using some kind of speed-enhancement spell, because even with the rocket-boost yanking me past all the stairs to the top, he still beat me up there. Barely, but he beat me. I saw him disappear through the roof-access door while leaving two injured security guards on the floor nearby. Very injured, if I had to guess from a glance. 

Tabs, help them! I blurted inwardly while giving my little partner a mental push as I went for the door. I’ve got this! 

Without hesitating, Tabbris popped out of me from behind, solidifying as she dropped down to do what she could for the security guys. Meanwhile, I could hear the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps and hoped it was Asenath and the others. But I couldn’t wait to find out. This guy could be gone by then. So, staff raised, I went right through the door.

Yup, it was definitely a roof alright. Sarez was ahead of me, racing for the edge. Before he could get any further, however, I summoned a quick little portal and shoved my staff through it, letting the other end pop out right in front of him before triggering a blast from the energy that had stored up since I landed in the stairwell a few seconds earlier. It wasn’t a lot, but it did manage to take the guy by surprise enough to make him stumble back a step or two. And that gave me an opening to hurl a small ball of goop that I’d summoned to my other hand. The goop was that nausea-inducing liquid, solidified into a gel. It stayed that way just long enough to splatter against the back of the man’s head. 

Unfortunately, that armor of his must’ve protected him from the effects of the gel, because he barely reacted before throwing a marble at his own feet. As the marble shattered, a wide wave of metal spikes, taller than I was, erupted from it and went shooting along the ground toward me. But I was ready, running forward to meet them. At the last second, I leapt up, planting my left foot against one of the spikes before pushing off. There were several lines of them, all staggered in size and placement, and I bounced from one to the next, ducking under a couple, hopping over one, trusting my instincts and reflexes. 

Once again, Sarez was almost to the edge of the roof. I opened another portal while leaping off the side of the last jagged metal spike, hurling myself that way as the portal appeared in front of me with the other end directly in front of the fleeing man. That time, I literally threw my staff through it while triggering the charge. The explosion of energy knocked the man backward, and I used the new power I’d just gotten at the theater a couple weeks earlier to summon the staff back into my hands as I landed on one knee, swinging it for the back of his leg. He was tough, but the strength behind the blow coupled with the concussive explosion of force he’d just taken to the face made the man stagger. 

I took advantage, springing to my feet before grabbing for his chest. But nothing happened when I summoned the Seosten possession power. There was just… nothing there.

The armor, I realized. The power couldn’t get through that white exoskeleton armor, which had completely covered him. Just as that came to mind, the man’s fist found my stomach, and then he was hurling me over his shoulder to the roof. His voice was a vicious snarl, “You don’t know what you’ve brought upon yourself!” 

Rolling backward to my feet, I was about to snap a snarky retort, when Asenath’s voice interrupted. “Why don’t you tell us then?” She was there, along with the others. Miranda, Shiori, Bobbi, and December were coming out right behind her. “And while you’re at it, tell us where you sent my mother and those kids.” 

I couldn’t see the blue man’s expression through the exoskeleton helmet that covered his face. But I saw the contempt in his eyes, and heard it in his voice. “Why don’t they explain it, in detail.” 

They, in this case, apparently referred to the entire swarm of lizard-people in suits (seriously, they looked like reptilian humanoids all wearing perfectly tailored tuxedos) that appeared in a literal flash of gray-green smoke. One of them screamed something about oppressors before they all threw themselves at us. In the background, I saw Sarez leap from the edge of the roof, throwing something ahead of himself that seemed to slow his fall. 

Then two of the lizard-men were on me. I ducked under one, snapping my staff up to rebound off the other’s chin before flipping the weapon around to drive the bladed end down into his foot. Using that as a brace, I shoved myself up into a double-kick, planting both feet against the first reptilian’s chest. But I didn’t just kick him. I also possessed him in the same motion. As he fell back, I took control, summoning my staff back to his hand (telling myself to cheer over that part actually working later) before spinning to cut the blade across the throat of his companion while simultaneously shoving my own host into unconsciousness. 

Then I just staggered for a second as the rush of pleasure from that kill filled me. It wasn’t all that strong, but still. Without Tabbris muting the sensation, it hit me more than it might have. I shook it off in time to see another lizard guy coming for me, holding a weird jeweled khopesh. 

He, in turn, was knocked to the ground by Miranda as she tackled him. “Go!” She shouted at me. “Get that guy!” Even as she said it, another Miranda appeared, already running. 

Asenath and Shiori were across the roof, engaged in a fight back to back. December and Bobbi were together too. All of them were busy. They didn’t have time. We didn’t have time. Not before Sarez got away. 

Running to the edge of the roof, I looked down. He was far below. Far, faaaaar below, a speck that was already landing on the pavement near a waiting SUV.

“With me?” I blurted, looking to the nearby Miranda. 

“Since second grade,” she shot back, already planting her hands on the edge of the low wall and starting to push herself up. I followed suit. Together, the two of us heaved ourselves over the edge of the roof. 

Then we dropped, plummeting through the air hundreds of feet toward our escaping target… and the ground. 

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