Theory

Exhibition 25-08 (Summus Proelium)

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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?” 

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Exhibition 25-07 (Summus Proelium)

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I was trying very hard not to think about the fact that I was leaving Izzy, Amber, and the others behind to fight a bunch of bad guys who were boosted by Banneret. They could handle it, right? I wasn’t going to come back later and find out that–

Fuck, stop it. Stop thinking about that. There was nothing else that we could do. The other bad guys were still after Inessa for whatever reason (and boy was I going to ask questions about that as soon as the opportunity presented itself). We couldn’t just leave her high and dry, so we’d had to split up. It was the best–only choice we’d had. 

And yet, none of those thoughts stopped me from worrying while gripping the handle on the marble-board tightly. Peyton was sending it as fast as she could across the park, toward the west exit. On the way, I did my best to distract myself by giving the others a quick rundown about what Fogwalker and Theory/Praxis’s deals were. Obviously, on the latter all I could do was say ‘try to stop them when Theory is out,’ which wasn’t much. I just felt repeated waves of confusion and trepidation about this whole thing. Why were they so intent on grabbing Inessa? This wasn’t just an ordinary kidnapping of a celebrity, was it? There were much better targets than her. As much as she might’ve been my hero, I knew she was relatively minor as far as that went. And this wasn’t just a small operation. They had at least five Touched here along with all these Prev troops. It would’ve been completely insane for all of this to just be for kidnapping one minor-to-moderate celebrity. So what the hell was actually going on? I still had no idea.

None of the others were any closer to an answer either. At least not in the brief time we had while soaring just above the trees, our eyes frantically scanning for any sign of our quarry. We were just going to have to deal with this first before finding out why it was happening. And seriously, where the hell were these guys?! They had been just ahead of us before. But obviously, Praxis was back out with another transportation power. Did that mean we were too late? Did they already have–fuck, no. That wasn’t helpful either. Just keep looking, they had to be somewhere around–

“There!” It was Calvin, the boy shifting his weight a bit as he continued gripping the handle with one hand so he could point off to the left side with the other. “Over by the tennis courts!” 

He was right. Even as my gaze snapped that way, I could see another group of those Prev thugs swarming over the courts, which were set next to one of the large restrooms. The full brick and mortar building type in this case, rather than the line of port-a-potties that had been over by the skating area. There was a sidewalk leading out of the restrooms and over to the courts, before it split off to head back deeper into the park or over the lot where several cars were parked. 

For a second, I didn’t see Theory, Praxis, or Fogwalker. Or any sign of the latter’s power. Then there was a loud bang, just as we flew far enough to see the front of the restroom. Praxis was there, having just ripped one of the apparently locked metal doors off. It crumpled in her grip before she tossed it over her shoulder and barged inside, shouting something I couldn’t make out. Fuck, fuck, was Inessa in there? Were they about to take her? 

Not on my watch. Without wasting another second, I blurted for the others to follow while hitting them with a quick spray of orange just in case. Then I dove over the side of the board, using a bit of blue at the last second to launch myself out and forward. I could see my target ahead, a skylight in the top of the building. There were two, one for each restroom. I was aiming for the one on the side Praxis had just gone into. And I wasn’t satisfied with my normal falling speed. Instead, I shot two bits of red to either side of the skylight and activated those along with red spots on my boots. Just as I started being yanked that way, I also activated a pair of long green lightning bolts along most of my legs. Between the green boost, the red yanking me that way, and my normal falling speed, I rocketed toward that building. At the last second, I canceled the red pull and tucked my arms against my chest while using an orange dumbbell symbol across my chest and a matching one taking up most of my back to make sure I didn’t go splat.

Please don’t die, please don’t die, please don’t die! 

Was I talking to myself or Inessa? I had no idea, but the advice was probably good for both of us.

An instant later, I hit the window and the glass shattered underneath the impact. If I hadn’t been protected by the orange paint, I would’ve been cut to ribbons. Not that it would’ve mattered, because if I didn’t have the orange paint, I would’ve died about a nanosecond later once I hit the floor of the restroom. It was cement, which cracked a bit under the force of my landing. 

I didn’t consciously take the time to look around and actively take in anything about the environment other than ‘inside a restroom with a cement floor.’ And yet, I instinctively knew the doorway was six feet ahead of me and one foot to the right, there were four stalls to my left, and a couple urinals to the right, with two sinks to the left of the doorway against the same wall as the stalls. I knew all of that without thinking about it. The information was just there in my head. 

Even as I hit the ground in a crouch (feeling a wave of pain run through my legs despite the paint), I could already see my target ahead of me. Praxis was slower than me for the moment, her gaze still raised as she had reflexively looked up at the sound of the glass shattering. She was starting to lower her head to bring me into her vision, but I was faster. A shot of red paint hit her front, while I sent another one behind me toward the wall. In the next second, she saw me, and raised her hand. But I was already diving forward and down into a roll while activating that red paint. Instantly, the woman was yanked off her feet and went flying over my body as I rolled under her. She slammed into the far wall, cursing up a storm. 

For a brief, happy moment, I thought I had a good ten seconds where the paint would hold her. But no sooner was I back on my feet, than the woman slammed both fists into that wall, punching two holes into it. She was going to rip that part of the wall apart within a couple seconds, and then it wouldn’t be able to hold her. 

Or she would have. To slow that down, I shot the woman with a blotch of yellow paint across her back. She couldn’t move as quickly, so she couldn’t punch as hard. Then I hit the wall itself with orange to protect it. There, that should hold her for–

She wasn’t there anymore. Theory was. But he wasn’t stuck to the wall, because his body hadn’t been hit with paint. Nor was he slowed down, which he demonstrated by immediately spinning toward me with a gun raised, and my green speed boost had worn off right then. Fortunately, I still had another second or two of orange time left for protection. But the thing didn’t fire bullets. Instead, I was hit by a concussive blast that sent me flying through the open doorway. In mid-flight, just as I reached the outside, I managed to activate a yellow parachute design across most of my torso and down my legs. It slowed me down enough that I could flip over in the air, sending red shots toward either side of the doorway, and yank myself back that way. As soon as I was going back the right direction, I canceled the yellow paint to get my speed back. 

Theory had turned back toward the bathroom stalls as I rocketed back into the restroom. I saw him spin back toward me, raising that gun again. But before he could do anything with it, Poise appeared, standing right on the edge of that now-shattered skylight I had gone through. She saw me, saw the man with the gun raised, then dropped down onto him, taking him to the ground under the weight of the impact. A second later, I landed on one knee next to them. 

That should have been the end of it, by all rights. Unfortunately, the second Paige brought the asshole to the floor, he vanished. Praxis was back, but she wasn’t underneath the other girl. Instead, she had reappeared about two feet back, in a standing position. Before Paige or I could react to that, the woman caught hold of both of us, one with each hand, and hurled us forward into what remained of the same wall I had red painted her to a few seconds earlier. We both hit the wall together, and I was really glad I had my helmet. Even then, I was going to be heavily bruised after all this. 

There was a loud clanging sound behind us, and I twisted my head back just in time to see Praxis rip one of the stall doors off. She glanced inside, apparently saw nothing, then pivoted to swing the whole door at the two of us. But Paige had recovered by then too, and both of us dropped to the floor, letting the thing slam into the wall just above our heads. 

By that point, Style had arrived as well. I didn’t know where the others were, but she came through the open doorway behind Praxis while she was still in mid-swing with that door and launched herself into a kick at the woman’s back. It didn’t actually do much. Strong as my doppelganger was in her biolem body, Praxis was currently an order of magnitude stronger. It did, however, draw her attention. The woman spun that way, throwing a punch that was actually quick enough to catch Sierra across the face (or rather, the visor part of the military-style tactical helmet she was wearing). Fortunately for Sierra, the other woman’s super strength had apparently worn off somewhere between the time that Sierra kicked her and when that punch landed. Because her hand just bounced off, and Praxis blurted a sharp, pained curse. 

Paige and I were both back on our feet and turned that way by then, while Sierra went to grab the woman’s arm. But even without active powers, Praxis wasn’t helpless. Her uninjured hand extended, and I caught a glimpse of some sort of silver bracelet on her wrist, just before it sent out a blast of concussive force similar to the one Theory’s gun had hit me with. But Sierra was quick enough to pivot out of the way, so the blast went over her head and took out a chunk of the door frame behind her.

Paige and I both moved to grab the woman’s arms, even as Sierra continued her pivot and came back around to kick her in the stomach. But all of us missed. Primarily because the woman wasn’t there anymore. She was gone and Theory was back. Like before, he didn’t appear in the same spot Praxis had been in, which I hadn’t even known was an option until a few moments earlier, and still felt like cheating. Either way, the man popped into view a bit to Sierra’s left, and already had his gun raised that way. But before he could pull the trigger, Paige had already recovered from missing her attempt to catch Praxis’s arm and instead lashed out with a kick. Her foot hit his wrist, sending his aim off to pulverize one of the other stalls. 

And then I saw her. Inessa was there, crouched in a corner of that now-demolished stall. She had barely avoided having her head taken off by that blast. Theory saw her too and started to turn that way, but both Sierra and Paige jumped over and got to him before he could do anything. Both of their fists collided with his head, dazing the man briefly and hopefully preventing him from switching places for the moment. Together, they caught his arms and shove-threw him out the doorway as hard as they could. 

“Get her out of here!” Paige blurted at me, just as she and Sierra went through the doorway after Theory. 

Wait, yeah, good idea. Pivoting back to where my idol was, I shoved all questions and confusion out of my head (along with the urge to giggle stupidly when I saw her), and just reached out to grab her arms. “Sorry, Miss Sidorov,” I blurted, “but we’ve gotta go!” Before she could respond, I activated purple hammers along both of my arms to help her get up. Then I wrapped my arms around her (stop thinking about that, Cassidy) and planted a blue puddle under our feet. But not just any blue puddle. First I made an empty circle of green, like I had done with the empty circle of yellow earlier. Then I filled it in with blue and allowed the former to feed into the latter. 

Yeah, when I activated that thing, we were rocketed out of the restroom and through the broken skylight. It was a good thing the glass was all gone by that point (crunched into tiny shards under our feet throughout the room below) because we went up through the hole like we had been shot out of a cannon. 

And this time, I wasn’t the only one giving a loud whoop of delight. Inessa’s rang through my ears as we soared high up, reaching a spot maybe ten or twelve feet above the roof of the restroom. Then I activated a yellow parachute ship I had put on both my back and Inessa’s as my arms were wrapped around her. That slowed our fall just enough that I could look around quickly. And I finally saw what was keeping the others busy. Alloy, Calvin, and Hobbes were dealing with those guys we had seen on the tennis courts. Or keeping them occupied, at the very least. Which explained why they hadn’t come rushing to their boss’s aid. 

After taking that in, I used red and orange paint to get Inessa and myself to the ground as far from the courts and restrooms as I could manage. We landed safely in the grass about seventy feet away, both of us dropping into rolls to deal with the momentum before popping back to our feet. She was slightly quicker about it than I was, which really said a lot about how amazing she–

Later, Cassidy. 

Right, we knew where the Prev troops were, and Paige and Sierra were keeping Theory and Praxis busy for the moment. Hopefully they wouldn’t give Theory the time he needed to set up a new power. I still wasn’t sure exactly how she’d kept the super strength for a few more seconds after switching with him that one time, but maybe it gave her a little more time if she ended early or–whatever, there wasn’t time to think about it. Right now, I just had to figure out how to get Inessa out of–

Darkness enveloped me, cutting off my vision almost entirely. I could barely see a few inches in front of my face. And it wasn’t just darkness. It felt like being underwater without actually being wet. The air was literally thick. This cloud that had appeared slowed my motions, slowed everything. It felt like my thoughts were slowed down. 

Oh, right, this would be Fogwalker. I had forgotten about him for just a second. And now the two of us were caught in his power. I grabbed Inessa’s arm, looking around quickly. Not that it helped. I could still sense every object around us. I knew where the trees and bushes were within the vicinity, and even knew exactly where the edge of the restroom building and tennis courts were in the distance. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help me know where the Touched lynx was. And to be honest, the idea of one of those things prowling through this fog toward me really–yeah it wasn’t fun. 

Thinking quickly, I released Inessa, stepping in front of her while covering my upper torso and helmet with a mix of pink and blue paints. The former fed into the latter as I activated them. Then prayed that Fogwalker would make his move soon enough. And asked myself just what sort of insane person hoped that a basically-invisible superpowered lynx would jump at them within the next ten seconds. Why would I do that?

Because it was better than the fucking thing doing it in eleven seconds, that’s why. 

The lynx was so quiet, I didn’t hear it approach until the very last second. A slight rustling on the grass was my only warning. Then the full weight of that oversized cat crashed into me, knocking me backwards and down. And yet, under that impact, my entire pink-blue-painted torso sort of collapsed in on itself. It felt really weird, the way my whole chest seemed to turn into an accordion. And no sooner had Fogwalker hit me, than my torso snapped immediately back to the way it was supposed to be, catapulting Fogwalker away from me. I heard his panicked and confused yowl as the big cat went flying away from me with several times more force than he’d actually hit me with in the first place. In the distance, I could hear him crash into the dirt with another yelp. 

Quickly canceling the paint, I grabbed Inessa’s hand again and started running. Well, as close to running as we could get in this stupid fog. “Come on!” I shouted her way. “Trust me!” 

Thankfully, she didn’t argue, and the two of us were soon ‘sprinting’ (if you could call it that) together through pitch black fog. I directed her around bushes, avoided a few random statues, pulled her away from a tree, and overall just kept running as fast as we could in the fog. We just had to reach the edge of Fogwalker’s power, and then–

We hit open air and sunlight just in time for an invisible force to pick me up and throw me up against the nearest tree. My back hit it hard enough to make me flinch. 

Praxis, of course. She was there, panting heavily while clearly glaring at me. Her hand was extended, using what was obviously a telekinesis power to keep me pinned against the tree. “No… more…” she managed through hard breaths. “She’s coming with us.” 

My eyes were scanning the area around us in a panic, but there was no one else in sight. No one here to help out. Everyone was busy, or hurt, or… or…

“You don’t have to be such a bitch about this. I mean, come on, your brother made a lot of fun toys,” Praxis was saying, her gaze laser-focused on Inessa. “And now all of it’s just sitting there, all sad and alone while he’s stuck on Breakwater.” 

Wait… wait…

What?!

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Exhibition 25-06 (Summus Proelium)

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It would’ve been nice if I could have called a time-out for a few minutes so I could explain everything that was going on, including the new power tricks I had figured out, to my newly-arrived friends. But something told me the bad guys here weren’t exactly likely to accept something like that. Especially not with the Minority people still in the middle of fighting those other two. To say nothing of how many random mooks they had helping them. Thanks to the flurry of chaotic motion, water, random bits of flying glass, and flailing energy coils, I couldn’t see how Fragile, Whamline, Wobble, Raindrop, and That-A-Way’s fight against Banneret and the goons helping her was going. And it was completely impossible to have any idea of what was going on with Carousel and Syndicate with Fogwalker. 

Unfortunately, we couldn’t check on them any more than we could call a time-out. Poise, Style, Calvin, Hobbes, Alloy, and I had our own immediate problem, in the form of Theory and Praxis, and their own thugs. I’d taken several of them down, and Alloy knocked down more with her arrival. But more were showing up, and they did not look happy. 

That wind blast from Praxis had knocked all of us flying, scattering our group across the grass. And even as I scrambled back to my feet, my eyes caught sight of the woman holding one hand out toward where Poise, Hobbes, and I were, while the other was pointed more toward the other three. My mouth opened to blurt a warning, just before twin blasts of wind tore into us. I tried to brace myself, but it didn’t help. Once again, we were picked up and thrown, tumbling end over end under the sustained barrage of wind. On the way, while I was crashing and rolling along the grass, I tried to shoot a bit of red paint toward the woman. Honestly, the mere fact that I could aim at her in the midst of that was pretty crazy. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. My paint was caught by her wind and tossed aside, scattering into useless droplets across the grass behind me. 

Okay, so I couldn’t shoot her with paint. But I could use it on myself. While the wind continued to throw me, I focused on making red paint appear on my hands and knees, then put more of it directly under me on the ground and activated all of it. The paint yanked me down and held me in place against the force of that rushing hurricane-like air. Thanks to the visor of my helmet, I was able to look that way without the wind tearing into my eyes. I could see Praxis focusing even more of her power on me, trying to force me to go flying again. But my paint held firm. To one side, I could see Alloy shielding herself, Calvin, and Style with a low wall made out of a couple of her marbles. Poise and Hobbes, meanwhile, were crouched behind a heavy tree. Even that was bowing sideways against the force of the wind. Most of the leaves were gone, and even a few branches had snapped off to fly away along the grass. I was afraid the whole thing was going to be torn out of the ground any second. 

Fortunately, Praxis’s power didn’t last forever. After those thirty seconds (which honestly seemed like a hell of a lot longer than that in the heat of the moment), the wind died down. She immediately shifted back to Theory, with his lab coat and goggles. Which we would’ve taken advantage of, but the instant that happened, a handful of those armed thugs took up position in front of him and opened fire with an assortment of guns. It happened so smoothly that I was pretty sure they had training and practice with jumping in to cover their boss while he took the time to set up new plans and powers for his partner. Which made sense. Of course they would’ve compensated for that sort of weakness. 

Seeing those goons jumping into position with their weapons raised, I quickly triggered an orange bullseye symbol across my chest, just before those first few bullets hit my arm and shoulder. It stung a bit, but I ignored that and scrambled to my feet. The others were protected by Alloy’s wall and that tree. But we still had to move quickly. Any second now, Theory was going to finish making his ‘plan’ and bring Praxis back out with a new power. The wind had been bad enough, I really didn’t want to think about what other dangerous shit she might come out with now that they were even more pissed off and had seen how we could defend against that wind. I had a feeling that whatever they came out with next would be even more dangerous, and very different.

To stop that, I planted blue under my feet and launched myself forward and up while shouting, “Rebound!” toward Alloy. 

Thanks to all the talks we’d had, she immediately knew what to do, positioning one of her marbles in a flat, wall-like shape in the air above me. It was angled just a bit toward the group of bad guys. Just before hitting it, I sent a new shot of blue that way while inverting myself in the air. My feet hit that spot, and the blue circle launched me off it like I was a ping-pong ball, sending me straight toward the gathered group. They were still trying to adjust to my rapid movements, most of their shots flying past me. 

The plan was for me to crash into Theory and take him down before he could bring out Praxis with new powers. Unfortunately, just before I would’ve hit the man with that flying tackle after rebounding off the marble wall, one of his minions threw himself in the way. I collided with that guy instead, and we went tumbling head over heels. I could hear him yelp and curse in pain. 

Seriously, these guys were both trained enough to immediately cover their bosses weakness, and loyal enough to throw some selves into the path of my flying body? How much were they being paid? Would it seem weird if I asked this guy if I could top it? 

While those thoughts were flying through my mind, I activated a purple unicorn shape on my arm before slamming my elbow into this guy’s face. His head snapped down into the ground, leaving him dazed for the moment. 

Meanwhile, from the corner of one eye, I could see Style driving her foot into the back of one guy‘s knee from behind while he was focused on me. Her hand caught the back of his neck as he started to stumble, and slammed his head forward into another guy’s temple as that one spun to see what was going on. Beside her, Calvin quickly dropped down next to the two fallen figures and snapped a pair of handcuffs on each of them to keep their hands trapped behind their backs. 

By that point, I managed to roll backwards off of the guy who had thrown himself between Theory and me. My foot lashed out to catch his chin as he started to blearily lift his head, putting him back down for the moment. 

Now that I was up and facing the other way, I could see Poise step smoothly between two guys while catching their extended arms as they aimed their weapons my way. Before they could react, she swung their captured arms around so the pistols in their hands slammed into one another’s faces hard enough to make them stagger backward. The guns fell, and Poise caught them in mid-drop, pivoting while firing one shot from each into the two men’s feet. In the exact same motion, as she continued pivoting, her foot came up to kick each of them in the face, one after the other, while they started to collapse from being shot in the foot. 

In the span of about two seconds, these guys had both gone from pointing their weapons at me, to having their arms grabbed, guns slammed into each other’s face, shot in the feet, and then kicked in the face in the exact same spot their own guns had hit. Needless to say, they both hit the ground and didn’t seem that interested in getting back up. 

Alloy and Hobbes were also doing something, but I didn’t have the chance to see what it was. After all, I was still standing in the middle of a large group of bad guys, who were reacting to my arrival by taking quick aim. They weren’t quite aware of what was going on to the guys on the outskirts, and it would take another couple seconds for the others to reach me. Seconds I wouldn’t have before these guys opened fire. 

Luckily, I had a plan for that. I just hoped it would actually work. Even as I was taking in what Paige was doing, I had been painting a new symbol across my chest, of a sword stretching from my waist up to my neck. At the same time, my hands snapped out to send a thin spray of paint at the semi-circle of thugs in front of me. They all recoiled reflexively, likely expecting to be yanked together or sent flying. But this time, it wasn’t red or blue. Each of them was hit, much to their probable confusion, by a tiny bit of the orange paint. It wasn’t much at all, just a thin line across each of them. They were clearly confused, yet didn’t waste time trying to figure it out. Instead, they opened fire. 

And that was their big mistake, because by that point, I had activated the paint I had put on my torso in that sword shape. The blade itself was orange, while the handle was pink. Praying that this would actually work, I had fed the pink power into the orange before immediately canceling it.

Normally, when I canceled the pink paint early, it made the spot that it was affecting very bouncy. Unfortunately, it only affected the actual spot it was touching, unlike the rest of my paints, which affected a larger area. Like, in this case, the orange paint, which would protect my entire body. But if I could use my newfound ability to combine my paint into new effects…

It worked. The temporary bounciness from the early-canceled pink paint fed into the protection from the orange. As these guys opened fire, their bullets rebounded off me much faster than they would’ve with just the orange protection. They went flying back the way they’d come. And since these guys were directly in their path, they ended up basically shooting themselves. 

That, of course, was why I had hit them with orange paint, so I wouldn’t turn into a killer. I didn’t give them enough to completely protect them, just enough that the bullets wouldn’t slaughter them. It was still obviously like being hit by dozens of baseballs or whatever. Enough that the assembled group in front of me hit the ground, cursing and groaning in pain. They had no idea what had just happened, only that they started to shoot me, and had suddenly been hit by a bunch of stinging pellets that would leave pretty solid bruises and possibly even a few broken bones. But hey, at least I didn’t let them actually take the full damage from being shot?  

I didn’t have time to think too much about that. I was already pivoting to catch sight of Theory so I could take him down. Unfortunately, just as my eyes fell on him, his form shifted again. Now he was gone and Praxis was back, with that same dark blue bodysuit and mask with white chestplate, boots, and eye lenses. Her powers, however, were obviously very different. A fact that was made rather obvious as she extended her arm, with electricity coiling around her finger. She sent it flying toward me, while I flinched reflexively. Thankfully, while the bouncy part of the canceled pink paint had gone away, the actual orange was still active. So I wasn’t completely destroyed by that shot of lightning. It still shocked me a bit, yet I was able to throw myself that way through the crackling line of electricity. 

“Hey!” I blurted while catching her extended wrist. I’d already activated a couple purple dagger shapes along my legs for added strength so I could yank her off balance. “Didn’t you know I already fought an electricity guy a few minutes ago?! You’re supposed to vary things up so the audience doesn’t get bored!” 

She was still trying to shock me, even as I kept hold of her arm. I could feel the electricity pouring into me, making my body spasm and jerk a bit out of my control. But, through sheer force of will, I kept my hands on her while rearing back to kick the woman in the stomach. I just had to hit her hard enough to make her stop trying to electrocute me before my protection wore off. 

Unfortunately, her new powers apparently weren’t limited only to shooting electricity. Just as my foot passed through the spot she had been in, the woman vanished with a burst of lightning and clap of thunder. I stumbled off balance, hearing another burst of thunder a short distance away, somewhere behind me. 

Pivoting quickly, I saw her appear behind Alloy, hitting the girl with a quick shot of electricity that knocked her to the ground, twitching and crying out. 

Poise was right there, already taking aim with one of the pistols she had stripped from those guys. Before she could fire, another burst of electricity shot from the other woman’s finger. Thankfully, Paige managed to throw herself into a sideways roll, letting it go right over her head. Belatedly, I realized that she had been acting as a distraction, giving Style a chance to hit the woman from the side. But just as she would have crashed into her, another lightning bolt appeared and Praxis was gone, leaving Sierra to crash into the ground where she had been an instant earlier. 

That time, she reappeared near Hobbes and tried to grab her, hands crackling with power. But Hobbes reacted faster, hand already extended toward Calvin as she snapped her fingers and activated the suit’s teleportation power. It was Praxis’s turn to have her plans foiled by someone vanishing right in front of her. 

Before anyone else could move, a voice shouted over the sound of fighting, “Praxis!” It was… Fogwalker, who was, as promised, a lynx. A gray-furred lynx with black spots, with some sort of metal collar around its neck. The animal was perched just on the very edge of the cloud of fog he had created. Fog that Carousel and Syndicate were apparently still trapped in. 

“Time to go!” the lynx TONI called toward Praxis. When he spoke again, the voice was clearly coming from the collar itself. Apparently he wasn’t one of those that could speak normally. It always seemed weird that some ended up with the power to talk and others didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to wonder about that too much, as Fogwalker added, “Target’s near the west exit!” 

Without a word of question or protest, Praxis vanished in another burst of lightning. A couple more followed as she appeared next to Fogwalker before disappearing with him. Then she did the same with Banneret, who was still fighting the others. Her time with that power had to be about to run out, but it didn’t happen before all three of them were gone.

The fog vanished almost immediately, and I could see all four Syndicates alongside Carousel, staggering suddenly as they could finally see where they were. Meanwhile, Whamline, Wobble, Raindrop, and That-A-Way were spinning around to look for where their own opponent had gone. They were also moving slowly and clumsily, practically falling over as though they were very thoroughly drunk. That was obviously thanks to the assortment of those small, flag-like marks over their bodies, courtesy of Banneret. The weapons she had taken over with more of her markings had all hit the ground together the instant she disappeared.

“Hey, what the fuck?!” That was Whamline, almost falling over as the marking slowing him down vanished and he went back to normal speed. “Where’d that bitch go?!” Belatedly, he glanced toward Raindrop and Fragile before sheepishly amending, “Sorry, I mean, what happened?” 

One of the Syndicates managed to orient himself and look back and forth between our group and the rest of their team. “Everybody okay?” 

Alloy, picking herself up from the ground after being hit by that electrical blast, grunted, “Fine, just peachy. Wait, is it over?” 

My head shook quickly. “No!” I shouted despite myself. “They’re still after Inessa Sidorov! And they found her by the west exit!” I was already trying to orient myself that way to start running, even though I wasn’t sure what good it would do. Not with that group being able to teleport. Yet even as that thought filled my mind, I saw the other group. Or rather, Fogwalker and Theory. The two of them were running past a nearby basketball court. They hadn’t teleported all the way to their target after all. Apparently Praxis’s teleportation had been strictly line of sight, and now it would take time for Theory to give his partner another transportation power. Time that we could hopefully take advantage of. Where Banneret was, I had no idea. But there wasn’t time to think about that. Not when Theory could finish charging up new powers for Praxis any moment. 

“There!” I was pointing while starting to move. “We’ve gotta stop them before they can teleport again!” 

The others were already moving to follow me, our combined teams starting to chase after the departing trio. But, of course, there were still the remaining Prev goons, who had pulled themselves together and were moving to intercept us. Worse, now we knew where Banneret was. Namely, right there in the middle of the assorted thugs, several of whom she had already applied boosting powers to. 

“We don’t have time for this!” one of the Syndicates blurted, before looking at me. “Take your team and go, stop those two! We’ll handle these guys.” 

So, we split up. Alloy created another board for our team to hop on top of, before it flew open over the heads of Banneret and her minions. They tried to aim up at us, but the Minority hit them from below, taking their attention and giving us the chance to fly after the other two. 

“Why the hell are they so obsessed with going after this skater chick anyway?!” Murphy shouted from her crouched position as she clung to the handle Peyton had created for us. 

My head shook quickly. “Dude, I’ve got no idea!

“But something tells me we really don’t want it to happen!”

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Exhibition 25-05 (Summus Proelium)

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No answers about why these guys were after Inessa, or where she had disappeared to, presented themselves as Amber, Izzy, and I raced across the park together. Apparently the other main source of fighting was going on near a small baseball field that had been built in the past couple years. There had been a Little League game going on, and the thought of those kids being traumatized and attacked by a bunch of gang members really pissed me off. Seriously, what were these assholes trying to accomplish? Had my family actually approved this? That didn’t make sense. Why would they let something like this happen, no matter how much money was paid? Attacking a Little League game? What the fuck was up with that? 

On the way, I realized that my call with Eits had been disconnected. A surprisingly painful flash of worry shot through me then, but a quick glance at my phone revealed a text from him promising to contact me as soon as he could. He said something about Pack showing up and how they had to do something now that I had Raindrop and That-A-Way for help. And he wished us luck.

It was taking us a minute to get over there. This wasn’t a small park, to say the least. But it did give me a chance to get filled in on what was going on, and what we were running into.

Beyond this whole situation, there had apparently been a flare-up of fighting between some of the Easy Eights (or the Fantastic Fives or whatever they were calling themselves now) and Oscuro near one of the old malls. Neither Deicide or Cuélebre were involved, but things were still pretty heavy, which was what some of the other Star-Touched were dealing with. 

Even worse, it sounded like Jennica had chosen now to make a nuisance of herself as well. She was in one of the police precinct stations, using her control-gems to force several of the cops to attack the others. So my dad and a couple others had to go do something about that. What made it worse was that they apparently had no idea how many of the cops in the station had been affected, or where Jennica herself was at the moment. 

The point was, between those situations and the usual crime around the city, it was taking time for more people to show up here. Which, come to think of it, maybe that was the problem? Maybe my parents expected the hero types to show up and drive these guys off pretty quickly, before there was any real danger, but then this other stuff happened. Hang on, was that the problem? I was completely positive that Jennica didn’t clear any of her criminal activities with the Ministry, so they wouldn’t have known about her plans. And from what Amber and Izzy were saying in those few moments while we were running together, the gang fight by the mall had erupted naturally, just when a few members from each side ran into each other and started a shoving, cursing match. That had escalated into a full brawl including Touched. So yeah, I was definitely willing to bet that this was the only situation that had specific Ministry approval, and likely only because they were supposed to be interrupted and driven off or whatever. 

All those thoughts flashed through my mind in a couple seconds, even as I looked toward the baseball field. Right now, all I could see was a bunch of indistinct shapes, but they were getting larger and more clear with each step. “Tell me what we’re dealing with!” I blurted that with a glance toward Amber. I knew Janus and Juice, along with that Devil’s Due guy, had joined up with a brand new gang from out of town. Well, technically they had been recruited by Cuélebre and then traded to this new gang in exchange for their own Latino Touched. But either way, I had no idea who these other people were. 

Speaking quickly, Amber explained, “Banneret looks like a mix between a medieval knight and a biker! Any inanimate object she touches she can put a mark on that makes that object do what she wants. Any living animal she puts the mark on gets a boost if they’re on her side and a penalty if they’re not. Stronger, weaker, faster, slower, all of it!”  

Izzy explained the next one, “Fogwalker’s a lynx TONI. He makes these clouds that’re like air for his friends, but really thick and hard to move in for other people, like Jello! It’s like moving underwater! I mean, what that’s like for most people.” She added the last bit a little sheepishly. 

Finally, Amber put in, “Theory and Praxis are the last one!” She saw my glance and gestured while we continued running. “They’re like Janus! Two people sharing one body, only there’s just one of them physically present at a time. They shift back and forth!” 

Like Fisher and Price, I realized, though I wouldn’t say that out loud. Not out here right now. 

Amber continued. “Theory’s the guy. When he’s out, he’s planning. He’ll look at a situation, figure out what he wants Praxis to do, then switch with her!” 

“And what can she do?” I called, eyes scanning ahead of us. We were definitely running into a mess. That much was clear. I could see a bunch of people on the ground, though they didn’t look dead. It was like they had hit the ground and were staying there to avoid drawing attention or getting hit. There were also what looked like gang members, armed with a mix of shotguns, pistols, and more melee-oriented weapons, running from group to group. I was pretty sure they were checking their faces. Were they looking for Inessa? 

“Anything!” Amber answered, making my eyes glance that way. Her head was nodding. “Within reason! I mean, within Touched reason! If Theory wants her to lift a bus and throw it, she can do that. If he wants her to fly up to the top of a building, she can do that! If he wants her to teleport, she can do that too! She gets powers based on what he plans, and his plans can only last something like thirty seconds or so before they have to switch back again. Once he’s out, he has to focus and plan out what happens next! The more power he wants to give her, the longer it takes. That’s when they’re vulnerable!” 

“Could he just say, ‘I want you to punch that Abyssal and kill it in one hit’ and give her the power to do that?!” I demanded. “Cuz I gotta tell you, I’m gonna be really pissed off if that’s a thing they could do!” 

“The power isn’t unlimited!” Amber called back. “She can get ‘shot put a tank’ strong, not ‘punch out an Abyssal’ strong! And she can’t just snap her fingers and kill people or anything. We don’t know what sort of limits there are, only that she’s only got about thirty seconds per ‘plan’ and she can’t become a god or anything.” 

Right, well, that was good to know. I would’ve hated to try to go fight someone who could turn into a god. That didn’t exactly sound like my idea of a good time. Then again, even with their so-called ‘limitations,’ I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be easy. 

By that point, I could see Whamline, Wobble, and that new Fragile girl. They were facing off with what had to be Banneret. She really did look like a cross between a knight and a biker, with black leather over most of her body, a gleaming silver chestplate, leg and arm guards, and a helmet that looked like both those things at once. It had sort of a medieval design, but was shaped like a motorcycle helmet. The visor was painted on the front to look like a knight’s helmet visor, but was clearly transparent from the inside. She had half a dozen guns, and twice that many knives, all spinning around her, along with a bunch of other random objects that she had clearly taken over. It was all the three Minority members could do to keep up with her. Fragile was using a bunch of glass shards to intercept the incoming knives, or hit the guns to knock them off course. Between that and Whamline’s coils plus Wobble’s vibration waves, the three of them were barely able to avoid being torn apart.

I couldn’t see Fogwalker the lynx, but I could definitely tell where he was. There was a thick reddish-gray… well fog over on the infield, stretching about from home plate to just a bit past second base, and covering first as well. I could just barely make out third. Whatever was going on inside that fog, we couldn’t see it. But I was willing to bet that that was where at least some of the Syndicates were. Three of them could be intangible at a time. That had to help with moving through that fog, right?  

I was guessing Carousel was in there too, because I couldn’t see her either. But I could see the person who had to be Theory. He was black, and his costume made him look like a scientist, basically. He had a long white lab coat that was just a bit thicker than it should’ve been, making me figure it was armored in some way. Beyond that, he wore heavy combat boots, cargo pants with a lot of pockets (all of which had random tools, notebooks, and other stuff sticking out of them), and a gray and black checkerboard-pattern plaid shirt. His head was bald, and he wore heavy green-tinted goggles over his eyes and a fairly large portion of his face. 

For a second, I couldn’t tell what he was doing. Not from this distance. Then I realized. He was talking on the phone. His focus was on that, as he turned in a circle while gesturing wildly. It looked like he was yelling on the phone. Whatever was happening here, it wasn’t going perfectly. Probably because they still hadn’t found Inessa. 

And seriously, why the fuck did they all want to find Inessa?!

Whatever the reason, an answer wasn’t coming immediately. Especially since Theory noticed us. I could almost see his double-take and the way he cursed, still holding the phone. Then he shouted, and I barely caught the word ‘those guys’ while he gestured our way. 

The thugs who had been going around from civilian to civilian all looked up, before focusing on us. Which meant the good news was that those people weren’t going to be harassed for a bit (or anymore at all, hopefully). The bad news was that now we had trouble, of the ‘lift their guns and start pointing them at us’ variety. 

“You guys go!” I blurted, activating the green and orange paint I had put on Raindrop and That-A-Way while we were running over here. “Help the others with Banneret! I’ll do something about our new friends!” Even as I said that, my eyes were scanning for Alloy or any of the others. The last text I’d gotten said they were coming and would be here soon. I just hoped it was soon enough

There were seven Prev thugs coming our way. Or rather, my way, once Izzy and Amber took off running toward Banneret and the others. Two of the approaching guys had shotguns, one had a long chain with some sort of blade attached to the end, another had a simple knife, two more had bats, and the last one had a pistol. That last guy was already lining up a shot, but I trusted the orange barbells I just activated on both of my arms to protect me from that. Not that I was going to be sitting idle anyway. Even as he was taking aim and starting to pull the trigger, I sent a shot of red paint that way while activating a bit of blue under my feet to send myself upwards. As the red paint hit his chest, I activated a bit of matching red on the bottom of one of my shoes. I was yanked that way in a Kung Fu-style wirework thirty-foot long jump kick that ended with me colliding with the man foot-first. He hit the ground, having only been able to let off a couple shots, which rebounded off my costume like hurled pebbles. 

At the same time, I put both hands out to either side, hitting the two baseball bats that the nearest guys had with red paint. They were already in mid-swing, but the paint yanked them toward one another rather than into the back of my head. The bats slammed into each other, and before the guys could actually let go, I took advantage of them being right next to each other by slapping the ground at their feet to make a blue circle. And this time I tried something else. Thinking about how I’d mixed white and green as well as red and green, I tried something similar here. First I made a quick empty circle of yellow, then I filled it in with blue and sort of… focused on both being connected. Then I activated them at the same time. 

It worked. The two men were launched into the air, but after they reached the first few feet off the ground, their flight slowed dramatically. They were still flying upward, but it was in slow motion. And more than that, they were flying higher than they normally would have. Like twice as high, actually. The entire effect was slowed down but also extended dramatically. It took them longer to reach the normal height, they went up twice as high anyway so that was even longer, and then they had to come back down. Which was also slowed. 

Well, at least they wouldn’t hurt themselves when they landed. And that little show even worked to distract the other guys here. While they looked that way reflexively, I hit the nearby shotgun with a bit of pink right around the middle of the barrel, while simultaneously activating a set of green wings on my back. With that burst of speed, I reached up to twist the barrel around so he couldn’t fire the gun. Not unless he was very stupid, anyway. Unlike when I used the pink paint on living targets, inanimate objects stayed the way I left them. 

Boy, between this and using the pink paint on that lamp post earlier, I really was turning into a cartoon, wasn’t I? 

The man cursed at me and dropped his weapon while trying to grab my arm. At the same time, the other shotgun guy was trying to slam the butt of that weapon into the side of my helmet. I supposed he didn’t feel great about trying to actually shoot me with it while I was so close to his buddies. Which, of course, was one of my main reasons for closing the distance the way I had. 

So one guy trying to grab my arm and the other trying to hit me with the butt of his shotgun. I certainly wasn’t going to let either of those things happen. Fortunately, I still had the green speed, so I was able to snap my arm out of the first guy’s grasping fingers before using a set of purple dart images across my leg to boost my strength enough to grab his wrist and twist it. He cried out and stumbled, before my foot collided with his knee, making him collapse fully. 

Oh, and the other guy, the one who had been trying to smack me from the side? I did something special for him. First, I made an orange smiley face appear on my helmet, right where he was aiming. The orange face had a blue mouth for a smile, along with blue sunglasses. Blue with orange. I focused on the former feeding into the latter.

In this case, when the butt of the gun hit that paint, I expected to be protected while the man was knocked away. But that wasn’t what happened. Instead, the instant the impact happened, I was fine, but the man himself jerked his head a little with a yelp of surprise, turning to look behind him. It was like someone had smacked him in the– Wait. Oh. 

Right, feeding blue into orange didn’t simply make it repel an object and protect the thing it was on. It protected the thing while also rebounding some of the damage back into the person responsible for it? I was guessing that the amount of damage returned had to do with how much blue I included. Either way, orange paint protected from damage, and blue-infused orange paint sent a portion of that damage back. 

Well, that was sure something. But I didn’t have time to focus on that now. Even as the guy turned his head away from me to see what had popped him, I was lashing out with my elbow into his stomach. It made him double over, before I caught the collar of his shirt and shoved him forward so he crashed into the guy whose leg I had kicked out from under him. They both went down in a tangled heap.

Before I could focus on the others, one of Alloy’s marbles flew in and transformed into a long, wide bar to slam into them. As I went down, my gaze snapped over and up. Sure enough, the girl herself was there, along with Style and Poise on one side of the long, wide board three of her marbles had turned into, and Calvin and Hobbes on the other side. 

They landed next to me, with Peyton asking, “Hey, are we late?”

In that moment, I caught a glimpse of Theory in his mad scientist getup walking our way. In the mid-step, his body transformed. No, he didn’t transform. He switched places with his partner. Now we were facing a woman in a form-fitting dark blue bodysuit that had a white chest plate and white boots. Her face was covered by a blue mask that covered her entire head, with white lenses over her eyes. 

Just as I took that in, the woman extended her hand and a blast of powerful wind erupted from her palm. It caught our entire group, picking us up and throwing us a good ten or fifteen feet. 

As we hit the ground and rolled, I called, ”Nope, I’d say you’re right on time!”

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