Hollow/Dice 1: Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory (Chapter 2)
Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
When you can’t roll above a ten…
Mildred Francis Grover sat in her comfy seat as she felt the jostling happen again. Kegger had promised he was going to get that particular kink worked out of the gyro stabilizer someday, but “someday” just never seemed to get around to happening. Still, it wasn’t as bad as usual, so maybe he HAD done something, at least. She glanced from her seat to the securely strapped in Grinning Leopard, who was doing anything but. GL looked green (they’d made that joke so many times already she couldn’t even work up a smirk at it) as leaves on a spring day. He hated flying with a passion. ‘IF man was meant to fly, we’d have wings!” he sometimes said, ignoring the fact that at least two members of their little team could, in fact, fly without wings or gizmos or magic.
Bree glanced over at him as well, then met Milly’s gaze with a shrug. Bree, or “Summer Breeze,” was a wind manipulator, thus her ability to fly without wings. She had no problems with flying, but she just wasn’t fast enough. She could only get airspeeds of about 100 mph. Milly could hit nearly 300mph, but only in short bursts. Bree and GL were good friends, had been since school, though they’d never dated. GL was too much of a player boy for Bree, who wanted someone reliable and calm. In the back of their hovercraft dropship sat the leader of their little team, Lionheart, checking his weapons and holdouts. It always amazed Milly how a pk/exemplar brick combo like Lionheart, a guy who could get hit by tank rounds and shrug it off, always carried so many holdouts, like he was a mage or a devisor or someone way weaker than he was. Someone who, by popular consensus, would actually seem to need holdouts. It also impressed her. Lionheart was a veteran hero of eleven years now, with a long history of successes. That’s why he was the boss.
Suddenly Kegger stuck his head inside the passenger bay. “We’re getting close, but boss, you might need to hear this,” he announced. “Something about the situation went and changed. Looks like we’re not going in for a monster fight, we got ourselves a supervillain now.”
“Why didn’t you just patch me through from back here?” Lionheart asked, not looking up from his laser pistol as he checked the battery pack.
Kegger, bulbous eyes seeming to be looking at her at the same time he looked at the boss, probably would have blushed if he was capable of it. Being a pseudo octopus though tended to make actual blushing difficult, and Kegs never showed his real emotions with his natural camouflage powers. His tentacle like arm reached up and his rubbery weird five pronged tentacle hand rubbed the back of his head as his hat slipped forward. “Well… apparently it done shorted out just after takeoff. I thought I had the stabilizer fixed, but I had to route power around a block I didn’t have time to really fix, cause of the emergency and all, and it just… blew the comm lines to the back. Still getting transmissions in the cockpit fine though,” he assured Lionheart, who finally looked up.
“Scintillation, come up front with me please,” he said by way of polite request. Lionheart never gave ‘orders’ to the women on his teams. Just very firm, forceful, but polite, requests he expected to be obeyed if they were in the middle of an operation. “Rainstep, prep for an early jump,” he ordered Greg. Milly, or Scintillation, winked at Greg as she got up, set her book down, and strode towards the front behind Lionheart’s massive Leonine form. Lionheart was “grooming” her for a job as his second. He thought she had potential… lord, why did she have to show off when she first met him? She liked being lazy. She followed in behind the seven foot tall form of her boss proceeding her. She might only be 5’7, but she had a chest to make most women jealous and the kind of hourglass figure she’d have almost been willing to kill for before she manifested. Her auburn hair was carefully arranged in intricate braids down her back and worked with runes and charms.
The cockpit wasn’t cramped. There was technically room for five up there even with Lionheart’s massive size, but instead it was just Kegger and Jimmy, or Auceps. It meant something resembling “Trapper” but in Latin. Jimmy was a rat, rather literally, but he saw no reason a rat couldn’t have “Culture” as he termed it. “Hey boss, how they looking?” Jimmy asked from his pilot’s seat, as his clawed hand flicked a control and a screen folded out to display video from local news, and another showed a small screen with the words, “Maryville Chief of Police” on it and a voice stress reader.
“Everyone is as ready as they can be,” Lionheart replied. “GL will be fine once we are no longer in the air,” he added with a chuckle everyone in the cockpit shared. “Chief, This is Lionheart, go ahead,” he added, looking at the screen.
“Thank God! We’re holding out for now, but only because the supervillain doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass-” Milly shot Jimmy a look, and he was giggling and pretending to check and make sure his ass was still attached. “-About whether we do anything. We don’t have the firepower to threaten him, and the National Guard haven’t been cleared to engage either. Local MCO is doing what they can, but their firepower is doing buckall to the villain. He… he killed a number of students and rescue workers shortly after his arrival, and turned them into, well, zombies…”
“Lionheart, this is Special Investigator Wilson of the MCO,” a new voice broke into the conversation over the same channel. Lionheart went stiff for a moment as a second screen popped up displaying a name and a voice stress reader. Milly would have to guess Lion recognized the name somehow. “I’m coordinating between our power armor and local PD SWAT with the chief here. We have the… undead under control, but you need to be aware there’s a second criminal. A wanted murderer we’re referring to as the Dice Killer, or Dice for short. He’s some sort of mage with a bent towards sending monsters at people. He’s run off with what we think might be one of those monsters, and possibly a student as well. He doesn’t seem to be cooperating with the super villain. Dice is an unregistered Mutant, be cautious. However, while the MCO cannot handle this supervillain with our available resources, we can handle Dice once you’ve engaged the villain. The villain’s nom de guerre is apparently Endeavor.”
Milly frowned as she listened. That was… abnormally open for the MCO. Straight up telling a super team composed primarily of mutants that the MCO wanted to hunt down a known mutant murder, who apparently wasn’t being classified as a supervillain, in the middle of a super fight with a legit Supervillain? Something about it immediately set her on edge.
“We appreciate the information. I’m sending my two fastest ahead,” Lionheart stated. Under his breath, she heard him mumble, “I hope.” He turned to the screen, which had a time delayed news broadcast that had just been cut off, with the reporters on screen discussing the events with expressions far too calm for the situation. “Knights out,” he added, waving Milly to follow him.
“Rainstep, you ready to go? Situation changed, we got a real supervillain now,” he said, holding his hand out. Kegs set a small handheld screen in it, which displayed a list of observed abilities, sent by the police, regarding this Endeavor fellow. “This is him, Endeavor. Some form of GSD they can’t get a good look at. He’s hiding behind extremely bright lights and has some sort of flying craft available to him. He’s mostly used fire attacks, but he has magic too. There’s another one the MCO is claiming dibs on, and much as it galls me, we can’t directly gainsay them. They’re legit on this one. The supervillain is a bigger concern right now, but keep an eye out for a young mutant of some kind. He’s unregistered, but the MCO is calling him Dice.” His growls of displeasure at the MCO reverberated through the dropship.
Greg, Rainstep, nodded. He was an Imbued, a servant of some kind of Rain Goddess, she didn’t know all the details because he didn’t share them. However, his particular powers would let him, hopefully, get to the location much faster than the rest of them. However, Lionheart had said he was sending his two fastest… “Scintillation, are we in range of one of your shortcut charms?” he asked her. She was already pulling it out with one hand while another grabbed a screen and pulled up a map. “Almost. You want me to jump ahead behind Rainstep and keep the villain tied up until you arrive, right?” she asked him.
“If you would,” he requested as politely as ever. She smiled and gave him a wink, then stepped over and gave Rainstep a kiss on the cheek. “See you there big guy,” she told him as he pulled his long distance vision goggles, a devise Keggers had put together, onto his eyes. They were like binoculars, only WAY more powerful. It let him get a very clear picture from miles away, letting him warp to bodies of water he shouldn’t even be able to see.
Greg smiled broadly as he stepped over to the door on the right, while she took the left. The doors slid open at a command from the cockpit and they both jumped out of the extremely fast moving dropship. She had buffer charms prepared to protect her from the extreme pressure wall of air that hit her, and a moment later she dropped precisely through a portal that opened up below her as she went sailing down behind the ship. Rainstep had already vanished.
Back in the dropship, Bree was looking at Lionheart as he stroked his well trimmed mane of hair and scratched at his leonine jaw. “Boss, Are we gonna be ok dealing with the MCO like this?”
“Probably. MCO keeps well staffed officers near all large colleges and universities in small towns, but most of the agents are locals or the like, and their habit of making kids vanish doesn’t apply to college kids, usually. Any mutant in college is generally someone who’s had powers for years afterall, longer if they are on staff. Way harder to make that kind of disappearance even remotely plausible. Northwest Missouri has a decent student body, but I’d guess the MCO probably only has about four to six power armor frames there, and not a lot of heavy munitions or equipment compared to the units in KC or even St. Joe. Still, if that agent actually believes he can handle a wanted mutant criminal with just two to four power frames, I gotta wonder how dangerous this poor Dice kid actually is…”
“Kegs, we got a few minutes still. See if you can find anything on this Dice while we wait for word from-”
“We’re engaged!” Scintillation’s voice came through his head. It was a magic charm she’d created to let the team communicate, but it had to be renewed every couple of weeks, so they only used it during operations or emergencies since that helped avoid wasting essence. Now qualified.
For her part, Scintillation threw a scintillating (what else?) pattern of energy at their opponent as she floated in the air a good distance away. She was good at engaging from long range, where she had more time to react and prepare. Still, she had a slight advantage over most other mages thanks to her innate ability to throw her attacks without using essence. Her signature move combined two different warper energies, manifested fire, malkuthian energy, and solar energy in a strange fusion of energies and a brilliant pattern of colors; which she could launch up to five hundred feet or so with good accuracy. It was where she’d gotten her codename. She wasn’t a very powerful mage, but she made up for it with the variety of uses her Scintillation had for defense and offense.
However, her attack, like Rainstep’s, didn’t seem to be overly bothersome to their opponent. He threw up his own manifested fire in front of a second layer of magical defenses, confirming her worries that he had magic. “Endeavor is almost definitely a mage,” she said into her charmed mic, which transmitted her words perfectly and instantly back to Lionheart. Unlike a real mic, this one didn’t need power, nor was it constrained by broadcast ranges, frequencies, or any of the other usual problems with a comm system. It was one of her best workings, but the teachers at Whateley had been a huge help with it. “Also has a fire manifestation power, or possibly pyrokinesis,” she added, throwing up her own barrier to block a counterstroke by Endeavor. She also ducked under the attack, which proved wise when his fire, empowered further with his mystic might, managed to shove itself through her barrier. “He’s powerful!”
“Cadrien, get out here and deal with these interlopers!” Endeavor called out a barked order. Behind him floated a ship shrouded by shadows. Until the others arrived, she didn’t have enough time and safety to do something about its cloak to make it visible. It was all she could do to keep Endeavor entertained with the help of Rainstep. His manifested water and her own power didn’t really conflict as much as pure water and fire would have, however his mystic water was good at wiping out Endeavor’s flame shields, keeping him off balance whenever she threw an attack at him. Of course, now that he was bringing out help… “Zelos… bring me the prize, alive. Kill the boy,” the supervillain barked further.
“He’s got at least two minions,” she said into her mic. Rainstep was too busy jumping about on clouds of steam to speak. His water and Endeavor’s fire were creating quite a lot of places for him to jump to, but Rainstep just lacked the raw offensive power of herself or Lionheart or even the absent Princeps, who had been out of the city when the call came in. “We’re about to engage one of them. I saw our secondary when I came in, he’s with a female teenager, probably that student. I couldn’t give them much of a look, but I thought he was defending her, not kidnapping her,” Scintillation explained over her comm as she exchanged shots with their target while retreating. Rainstep appeared nearby, throwing a burst of water to fizzle out one of Endeavor’s attacks as the new player entered the field from the patch of shadows that constituted their ship.
Something seemed to explode outward into view from the ship. It was a massive form, standing about ten feet tall, with white and black skin, horns curling around its head, and bat wings and a long tail. Its coloration should have blended well into the night, making parts of its hard to see, but instead it seemed easily visible somehow. “Fallen angel class entity,” Scintillation whispered into her comm as she threw a barrage at the monster and prepared a special hex charm specifically for dealing with such beings. A blessed folding fan from Japan, blessed by Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, and lastly Catholic priests appeared in her hand. She promptly waved it at her energy attack and it hurled forward with an distinct white glow outlining it.
“You call me out here to deal with a witch and blessed water?” The fallen angel, Cadrien, snarled at their original opponent. However, as he did so, Scintillation caught sight of something else hitting the ground for a moment before the night swallowed it.
“Second bogey pursuing Dice, unable to verify,” she replied as she used her fan to try and blow away a wall of fire hurled by Endeavor. She suddenly started as pain washed over her from her shoulder. She almost dropped the fan, but it was enchanted to be hard for her to lose her grip on it or drop it by accident. A black spear was protruding from her shoulder. “Shit, I’m hit!” she murmured. Another spear seemed to be forming in Cadrien’s hand. He’d hurled it straight through her defenses with such speed she’d had no chance to try and direct her energy wave against it. She hit the spear in her shoulder with her energy wave and watched the whole spear pop. That freed up her shoulder to move, but it still had a hole in it. Her prepared healing spells kicked in, stopping the bloodflow, but it would be a while before she had full use of the shoulder again.
“Scintillation, the power armor squad from the MCO has gone off in pursuit of Dice,” Kegger’s voice sounded over the standard comm unit. Oh good, they were in range, her shocked mind thought as she threw up a wall of energy and managed to barely avoid another spear. Rainstep was engaging Endeavor, but he was, at best, distracting him. The fallen angel, Cadrien, had a brilliant and innocent smile on his face as he hurled another spear at her. “She could be a fun one,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. Oh no… it was never good if something like this took a personal interest in you.
“Good news though,” Keggers added when Cadrien suddenly jerked back. “The local priest showed up to bless SWAT’s weapons and ammo.” Thank God for that, Scintillation thought with a tiny hint of a grin. And thank Mother for insisting I keep going to church, she added as a mental note. “I’m about to send a gift your way, clear the hit zone please,” he added. “Targetting array just got a nice little lock on our friend. Should distract him plenty good,” he explained.
“Rain, did you hear that?” she asked over her own comm. Rainstep sometimes missed communications over the normal technological radios if he was teleporting a lot, but her own magic comm didn’t have that problem.
“Sure did,” he replied. He popped up next to her and sprayed some water on her shoulder. “Keep the taint out of the wound,” he said, though she’d known as much. His manifested water was blessed by his rain goddess, and had natural abilities to remove disease and the like. Not powerful, but it would clean a wound of taint or rot that was fresh at least. It did wonders on demonic entities and dark magics.
She ducked another hurled spear since she had an idea what to look out for as she heard the whistle of the incoming projectile. She sent a wave of energy washing out, forcing Cadrien back as she used her standard comm to intercept the police channel. “Keep clear of a 100ft radius around the target!” she called over it. SWAT teams were unloading everything they could throw at this thing. They also did the smart thing of backing up.
The missile Keggers had launched was a devise of his own design. It was a singularity bomb, a design he’d gotten off another devisor in portland, but his was way bigger. That didn’t necessarily make it better, Scintillation thought wryly as she threw wave after wave at the enemy and pulled back from the blast zone. Cadrien looked up with amusement as the missile came streaking in and… he caught it. Not by the nose, no he dodged around and caught it by the middle “Amus-” it exploded on him even though it hadn’t actually “hit” its target. He was, after all, dealing with a devisor. Keggers had seen that trick before.
Gravity went wonky as everything started being dragged into the singularity that was within 100ft of the center. Scintillation was outside that and Rainstep was down below, making sure he had all of SWAT and the fire and rescue workers outside the radius. However, both Endeavor and the fallen angel Cadrien were well inside that radius… as was something else. The shadow of their ship was being pulled in. Suddenly, the singularity bomb stopped… as the shadows popped off the massive vessel, revealing a very large looking sailing ship, something out of the era of the revolutionary war crossed with some sort of steampunk! It had no airbag over it, but it had whirling rotors and wings and a dragon helm and it had to be nearly 300ft long! “Holy shit…” She muttered in surprise.
Then, as Cadrien crushed the singularity bomb in his grip somehow, more explosions started, smaller ones. The others had caught up. “Knights! Deploy and defend!” roared Lionheart as he leapt out of the deployment hatch on the side of the dropship. She wished Keggers, Princeps, and Jimmy would finally agree on a name for the damn thing. It was nice, but it really wasn’t all that special without a name to identify it.
He had an oversized plasma rifle in hand and was firing at Cadrien as he swept down upon them from the air. Bree was launching wind attacks against the massive, and brightly lit, flying ship behind their opponents while Keggers manned the weapon systems on board the dropship and unloaded on both ship AND supervillains. It was about time.
GL leapt out of the dropship with a jetpack strapped to his back and went sailing downwards at high speeds, aiming for Endeavor. He manifested his PK “Leopard Claws” and tried to slash the guy while he was distracted by Lionheart’s rifle fire, but Endeavor dodged aside. GL landed on the ground and ran towards the rubble. He obviously had orders.
“Scintillation, pull back and recover for a moment please,” Lionheart requested as he flew straight at the supervillain. He impacted with a very LOUD sound and the two went tumbling. Apparently Endeavor hadn’t been expecting anybody to manage to get close to him, but Lionheart had the confidence of a long career to make him sure he could take the risk. However, even that was no match for facing both Endeavor and the fallen angel at once, and he had to back off when spears started being hurled at him. If they could go through Scintillation’s magical defenses, they could pierce Lionheart’s PK and body armor. Endeavor stepped back for a moment and began launching attacks at Breeze and the dropship, forcing them away from his own ship as Cadrien began to engage Lionheart and Rainstep, dodging water while hurling spears. He proved to be incredibly fast and also had some kind of chain whip weapon in his other hand.
Scintillation watched Endeavor reach his ship, where several individuals appeared on the deck. She wished she could hear what was being said, but with the dropship’s spotlights, at least they could see it. Endeavor was cupping a young looking female’s face. She had GSD that gave her feathers and red and yellow skin. Not quite a bird, but definitely evocative of one. Scintillation couldn’t see their expressions at all, but Endeavor pointed, and the female and another three individuals in flight harnesses took off from the ship as he turned to engage the dropship. So far, her own attacks had been sufficient to cancel out his fire powers. With the heavy firepower of Keggers and Auceps on her side, it might be enough to pin him against his ship, leaving Rainstep, Breeze, and Lionheart to engage the fallen angel. An Imbued, an Avatar, and a knight versus a demon… it was probably their best shot. “Lionheart, I’m switching with Breeze to back up Kegger and Auceps. My Scintillation can cancel out his fire, but that demon is too fast for me,” she explained, flying that way.
“Understood,” Lionheart replied, then he unleashed a roar as he drew his sword and batted away a hurled spear. Rainstep launched a jet of water at their target as she flew past Breeze, who waved at her as they exchanged dance partners. “Stay safe,” he added as he took his stance. “I am Sir Lionheart! Duly Knighted defender of the realm by the Queen of England! I bear the blessed blade Gladius De Raphaelis! Face me and die, Fallen one!” He roared in challenge.
Elaine quietly cursed fate as she flew with her master’s minions behind her after their targets. Four MCO power armors had gone charging off after the master’s prize, and since Zelos had failed, that meant she had to pick up the slack. If she didn’t… she did not want to think of the pain that would result from her failure. Of course, success would be little better. Being saddled with idiot minions was… unnecessary. It was not as though her master would have difficulty watching her every move. No, they were supposed to be there to help, if that was even possible for third rate minions.
She could almost smell something in the air, some lingering scent that smelled good, but she wasn’t sure what it was. It wasn’t the mission either. No, she was to fly to where the master’s mystic senses had decided Zelos’s corpse must be, and from there, find their prey… after she made sure the power armor was… handled. She had not been ordered to kill them, not yet. Maybe she could make them lost, lead them on a goose chase. That could work!
There was no great difficulty in tracking power armor. It was loud, and obvious. It made noise and it left tracks. “Sir,” one of the bloody minions, Calville, spoke up. Master’s little torture. Everybody called her “sir.” They all knew. They KNEW. Some of them even enjoyed mocking her. She didn’t hear that in Calville’s voice. Maybe he was just new.
“Yes?” she asked irritated when the minion did not continue. Would it kill the master to hire competent help? If only it would and he did. That, however, was never going to happen. Never…
“I think we’ve found them on radar, Sir.”
“Where?” she asked, trying to suppress her irritation. She couldn’t afford to be irritated. Master might assign her even more irritating minions.
“Two clicks to the east, a click… south?” he asked hesitantly, as though she’d have the answer.
“We must have passed them. Come on, follow the radar then,” she ordered, turning and flying that way. The wings, wings of a bird, that she used in place of arms still felt odd to her, flying like she did. Weren’t the wings supposed to sprout from the back? Instead, when she wanted to fly, her arms became wings… but she didn’t really have to flap to fly.
She left the minions behind as she flew. She was faster… she wanted to be free. Just run… just run… then the pain started. The fear took hold. Alone, out there. They’d hate her. Murderer. Killer. Mutant. It didn’t matter why. It didn’t matter how, or who. It was an accident. They’d still take her life. She was just a mutant. It didn’t matter. She…
She stopped flying, and almost fell out of the sky. She caught herself in time, however, and flew back up to the others as they caught up. “Everything alright sir?” Calville asked in concern.
“Fine. Take the lead, Calville, guide us in following the radar,” she ordered. As long as she obeyed, the pain… the fear… they stayed away, the master made sure of it. If she did really well, he might even let her blank out of her reward. She’d still have to get rewarded, but maybe she wouldn’t have to remember it. That would be… better.
“Yes ma, ah, Sir,” Calville responded, swinging into position in front of her and leading them towards the MCO power armor squad. He’d almost called her ma’am. That was new.
MCO Special Investigator Agent Stanely Wilson was doing what he liked most about his job. He was in hot pursuit of a wanted felon and had all the justification in the world he would need to just kill him if he resisted at all. If he didn’t… Dice was the slam dunk the MCO needed. A dangerous mutant who went psycho the moment he manifested and killed his own parents.
Now he had four power armors, including himself, chasing that very menace. The super villain was duly entertained by the KC Knights, leaving Wilson free to run down Dice. They still didn’t know what, or who, he’d seemingly grabbed from the scene. Whatever had knocked out the Professor and killed the monster… but was it a newly manifested mutant or another monster? Or maybe Dice had picked up an ally somewhere. That could complicate things, but Wilson felt sure that Dice could be handled with four power armors. The mutant was dangerous, yes, but any monster he called would not stick around if he was killed. He also had those barriers, but they, Wilson knew from experience, could be beat with raw force.
“Keep your eyes peeled, the HUD and radar and even infrared could miss it if we aren’t sharp. Dice is a crafty one, he’s been evading us for over two years now,” Wilson reminded his subordinates. His own eyes were on his HUD, but also the sky. He was in the middle of the formation, which meant it was his job to watch the skies. Dice had attacked from above before. He could attack from many angles, but these power armor suits were reinforced against electric shock, EMP, and had force fields to protect them. Their armaments were fairly generic, but that was fine.
They were moving in a simple triangle formation with Wilson in the middle of it. Point watched forward, the others watched the sides and rear, Wilson watched the sky. Thus, even though Radar had basically been useless all night, he still saw the approaching formation flying in the sky. The girl glowed especially bright. “Incoming!” he called, opening fire. They obviously weren’t the heroes. Fire from his heavy gun lit the night as the other units began opening fire. Dale had the heavy rail cannon while Franklin and Evero had machineguns and rockets. The incoming fliers took an evasive pattern and shot over head, dropping fire that failed to harm their MCO issue power armor, or the jockeys inside. However, one of the fliers dipped low and pulled out a flaming sword. It was female, and she had wings for arms. As she flew past, her flaming sword flicked out and sliced off part of the arm of Franklin’s armor, causing it to sag uselessly and began to overbalance his suit, though the auto-balance was working fine. He wasn’t about to fall over.
However, the enemy was being very evasive in the air, far more so than their original quarry. They divided up into four and made more howling passes at random, often as soon as any power armor turned to engage another threat. The real threat was, of course the mutant, but the men with flight packs could still get lucky. They carried powerful laser rifles, quite possibly devises instead of real technology. Wilson was getting angry. He had other business to be about. He continued firing on the fliers, but was having no luck hitting any of them. “Disengage aim prediction systems and switch to manual,” he ordered. “They’re probably relying on our own systems to screw us,” he muttered. It wouldn’t be remotely the first time somebody had managed to hack the MCO and learn how their power armors’ pattern prediction software worked, and use that against them. Wouldn’t be the first time Wilson had been forced to teach such idiots a painful lesson.
When he switched off the prediction system and used his own brain, it worked. With one shot, he winged a flier and sent the man spinning out of control. The other three fliers took off in pursuit of their errant partner, showing more solidarity than he expected of most supervillain scum. “Follow them! We’ll gut them while their busy before we get back to business!” he shouted, angry. One of the fliers, the mutant, had turned back even as he gave orders, and was still doing an excellent job of dodging fire. However, she was now their sole focus. She got hit, hard, with a stream of rounds from the belt fed gun carried on one of the frames. She fell out of the sky. “MOVE!” As much as he wanted Dice, this was another mutant menace begging to be killed. He needed to verify she was dead, then blow her to gooey chunks. Kid or not kid, and he’d thought she vaguely looked young, she was a threat who attacked him.
He charged towards her.
Dice was leading Hollow only because he was the one with the plan. She could see in the dark better than he, even with his vision enhancing goggles. However, he was the one with the brilliant plan to get her back to the proper authorities. Sneak back to campus, find the police, and hand her to them if he thought they were likely to protect her. The MCO had no power over the police at all, and he’d seen how the chief acted towards the local agents. More to the point, he’d felt it. That man wouldn’t let a teenaged girl into the hands of the MCO if they held him at gunpoint.
They still had to get back there. Hollow was fast. They were over two miles out, at least, by the time they had that fight. So they had to backtrack. And they needed to avoid the superfight still visible way away in the night sky. So they had to go around.
That put them approaching city streets to come at the college from the northeast. They weren’t quite to the streets yet though, still in open fields with a couple trees nearby. However, they would be soon. Dice had let himself be carried again, but now they needed stealth more, and Dice was leading. He had far more practice than Hollow, after all.
He waved her forward and she slipped forward quietly at a run, her bare feet making little noise. She reached him quickly. Past here it was streets and houses and people. They had to try. He turned to look at her. The fear, the anger, the worry, the panic, they gnawed at the edges of her psyche, but determination and courage bloomed atop those. She was in control, and she was doing great. He opened his mouth to tell her so when he saw the streak of fire come shooting down out of the sky from a long way off. The distant sounds of battle had been coming from that direction, but it was so far away he’d ignored it.
“Down!” he called, ducking low as the streak of fire blossomed into a bundle of panic and fear and humanity when it got close enough. It was a person, flying, or rather crashing. He plowed into the ground and that bundle vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. Pieces of the body and the flight pack went sailing and one almost got him in the eye. Several bounced off Hollow, further shredding her poor nightshirt. He was lucky she was still covered at all, at this point.
The loud sounds of a battle rapidly began drifting closer and more flyers swerved their way on jets of fire. Another glowing flier crashed to the ground nearby, the glow of tracer fire hitting it and taking it from the sky. It seemed to take forever to crash to the ground. When it did, it landed just in his range; aa bundle of fear, panic, and such utter sorrow and misery that he doubled over in physical pain exploded into existence within his empathic sense. “Dice!” Hollow called, grabbing his sides to hold him up. “What is wrong, are you hit?”
“No, no, just… oh god, so much misery, so much pain…” he started staggering towards the source. Most empaths would have run the other way, but every since he’d first seen that battle tonight, been bombarded by that fearful, worried crowd… something had woken up, like it had been asleep. An instinct, that primal urge some individuals have… the need to help. He wasn’t sure when it had gone to sleep, he’d never noticed. He’d just been running and killing anything that came after him. That was all he had, all he was. As he did, memory stirred, of a promise.
“Dice, the cops are that way!” Hollow called, but Dice didn’t hear her. She dashed after him, calling for him until she caught up, but neither of them had needed to run far to find… her. She was standing up, the wounds of the bullets already healed. Her skin was the red of flames, her face beautiful and stunning, with exotic feathers giving her a crest. Wings adorned her arms, or perhaps it was better to say her arms were wings. She was short, barely more than five feet, even shorter than Hollow. She was dressed in black, a tank top and vest and shorts. She was certainly beautiful, even covered in mud.
Dice could feel the misery flowing off her like a physical force, this close. She looked up as she dusted herself off, scowling in an anger Dice could barely perceive beneath the constant misery… when she saw them. “Oh no,” she said. “Why did you come to me?” she asked, and if anything, the sight of them only made her misery increase. “Now I have to catch you…” she muttered morosely.
There was a loud crack and Dice crumpled. He’d felt it coming, but it was so… miniscule beneath that tidal wave of awfulness he couldn’t process it. He could just stare blankly up at the figure in armor and a flight pack, with a gun in hand, who stood over him, weapon aimed at him. He was on his side, but he couldn’t process when it had happened. His vision swam, and started to go dark.
Elaine could only stare in horror at the sight of her prey running up to her. Deep down, she’d hoped they would evade her. Instead, she’d lead the MCO right to them. She saw Calville sneak up behind the little mageling and smash his rifle into his head. The older boy simply let it happen and crumpled to the ground. “Dice!” shrieked her target… a young girl from India. She was slight, just a bit taller than Elaine, perhaps five feet five inches tall, but petite, not stocky. She had hair down to her neck, pulled into a simply ponytail. She was wearing tatters that barely concealed a body that was clearly deserving of the title “a beauty in the making.” She had wide hips, and shorts. She, like Elaine, didn’t look even slightly cold in the winter chill, despite her bare feet.
She also pulled a sword from somewhere, prompting Elaine, on impulse, to pull her own out and counter her as she went for Calville. “You hurt Dice! I will kill you all before you take either of us!” she shouted, and attacked. Elaine almost lazily parried her strikes. She wasn’t an amateur, but it seemed obvious her sword skills were lacking. Elaine had been learning fencing since she was five. She was strong, but strength was of little benefit if you did not understand how to use it, and fencers adored opponents who relied on brute force, but lacked protection or skill or finesse. She was just full of openings. Elaine tagged her in the shoulder, the leg, the back, countering her moves with ease. She felt bad for the girl, but she couldn’t go back to the pain...
“Sir! MCO!” one of her minions called. She snapped her gaze towards the MCO power armor, powder blue, crashing towards them. She ducked slightly aside, brushing a slash by the girl and sending her sprawling into the ground.
“Get them, don’t let them interfere with the prize. Keep your weapon on the boy,” she ordered Calville. “Girl! Neither of us wants the MCO to win, fight them, then you can have me… or I can order my minion to kill your friend,” she offered. It was the only quick option she had to turn the girl into an asset. She couldn’t fight her AND the MCO, that would be a mess beyond all belief. The master hated it when she failed, and he hated it when she wasted minions… losing all the minions AND the girl… she shuddered.
There were tears in her target’s eyes. How long had it been since Elaine had dared to cry? The girl glanced at her stunned companion, then turned to Elaine with hatred burning in her gaze… then she charged the MCO. Elaine let out a breath of relief and joined the attack. “Stay back, give us covering fire!” she ordered her remaining minions.
The four MCO power armors, one of them missing an arm, came at them firing. Elaine felt several bullets hit her, causing moments of brief pain before her wounds, lit by fire, healed. Sword in hand, she flew at the enemy, then came to a stop in awe. The girl hit the first MCO armor like a wrecking ball, bowling it over, and her blades flicked out and sliced off one of its arms through its forcefield. Their fire hit her several times as she did, but she did not stop or fall. Those rounds were rated to stop even high level exemplars, but the girl ran through the storm of fire like they were mere flies and she the flyswatter. In short order she had dismembered three power armors. The fourth skirted around her and charged at Elaine, firing. His shot missed as she dodged and exploded behind her. He was then tackled from behind by the girl, who sent him bowling end over end to land near the place where the minions had that boy. She landed atop him and dismembered him.
Elaine flew over and came to a stop, staring in surprise at how quickly and easily the girl had ripped through the MCO… despite having just manifested that night. However, she realized quickly that whatever it was… it had exhausted the girl. She practically fell over as soon as the last armor was done. Execute the MCO and bring me the prize… but leave that last one, the leader. Execute his men in front of him, but let him live, her master suddenly ordered in her mind. Elaine winced, but forced back the tears, the fear, the pain…
“Drag the bodies over here,” she told the other minion, but then Calville suddenly called for her. “Boss, quick!” he was pointing at the body in front of him, the boy.
Elaine ran over, the girl… more like crawling. There were at least three bullet holes through the boy, and he was bleeding out. She looked from Calville, to the boy, realizing that tired or not, she’d just lost her hold over the girl.
The girl though… she just stared in shock and horror. “No… no, no , no, NO! DICE!” she scrambled to her feet and ran to him, shaking him in fear. “No, Dice, please, no! NO!” she wailed. Froggy turned from the sight, sick to her stomach, and looked at her minion, using his rifle as a laser cutter and yanking unconscious MCO officers out of their power armors. She turned, hating herself, and forced the remaining one onto its face so its occupant, the leader, could see. Then she felt movement and spun. The girl was stepping towards her… but not to attack. She looked frightened, desperate, sad…
“Please… help him, please! If you can help me, please! Take him to a hospital or something, please! He was just trying to help me! He had his own troubles, but he was just trying to help me… do not let him die, please,” she said, sinking to her knees, and bowing to Elaine. What, or how, she thought Elaine could help was beyond her but…
She turned, eyes hardening, to the two men she’d been ordered to execute. Apparently, one of them had gotten tagged by friendly fire, judging by the giant spattering of bullet holes in the corpse. She… she could…
“I will go quietly, I will not fight back, please… if you can save him,” she heard the girl cry. Elaine stiffened. There it was, that quiet compulsion… she had a way to get everything she wanted… and… and she could save someone. Just this once, she could save a life…
“Don’t look,” she told the girl, as she stepped up to the MCO officer on the left. Both of them were young looking men in their twenties, still far older than her own fifteen… she set her hand on him and he began to burn. She forced herself to watch as the fire spread across his shoulder, ripping into the insides of him until it was pouring out of his mouth. His partner struggled to get away, but he was barely conscious and badly battered. She saw her minion strike him unconscious out of the corner of her eyes as she used her flames to burn away a life to ashes. Then, glad this one was unconscious, knowing she’d never have dared disobey her master’s intent by knocking him out herself… she repeated it.
Soon, two piles of ash stood where once there had been men. In the back of her mind, she could hear their boss screaming invectives at her, and she deserved every one. “Mutant filth! Murdering genescum! You deserve far worse! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you with my own hands! I’ll burn you in molten steel for this! I’ll watch you burn to death, and then I’ll laugh, knowing your mutant filth soul is burning forever in hell!” If only he actually could she thought idly, maybe at least the pain would stop for a bit…. Elaine had tried to commit suicide once, but the sheer amount of pain that came with dipping herself in acid… a gun wouldn’t do it. She was mostly fireproof on top of her regeneration… then she’d still regenerated anyways… she’d been little more than BONES and she’d come back…
She gathered up the ashes of his men, her whole body alight with flames in a multitude of colors, and walked to Dice. She hated this power. Rejuvenation. Healing, yes, but at a cost. Only she came back infinitely, inexhaustibly. Anyone else… for anyone else, an equal amount must be paid. Life for life. She knelt by the cooling corpse of the boy, and sprinkled the flaming ash on him, and her fire raced across his body. Bullets were shoved out of wounds, and his back arched as he drew in a breath. He lived.
“It is done,” she said, turning to the girl.
“You are crying,” was all her target could say, her own tears flowing freely. She had to be lying. Elaine never cried anymore. Tears brought too much pain.