Absent 11-II

Before The Killing

In her hiding place behind the shattered remains of the lab, Shauna clenched her fists, waited, and listened (she didn’t tell me this, I’m just embellishing the story for effect). Ribbon- Natalie was out there, possibly injured, possibly dead, and she couldn’t do anything but sit there. For not the first time, she cursed her power. Why couldn’t she have gotten something useful, like healing or teleportation, or even superspeed? But instead, all she could do was make waves to hit people. And against these four? It was like throwing spears at a tank.

“Enough!” a man yelled. She assumed it was Awestruck; it had an air of someone used to being obeyed. Obviously whatever Ricochet had tried had done something, because he sounded pained. Good. “You. Why were you here?”

“To find the magical artefact of ‘fuck you'.” There was real venom in Ricochet's words.

There was a sigh, then a crack, and a grunt of barely-disguised pain. “That was one bone. You have 208. Let’s not drag this out.”

“Awestruck.” The woman in the golden armor, Paladin. Her voice was flat, very clearly a warning.

“Paladin, we do not have the time. One of them could be getting away with it right now.”

“Oh? Then maybe we should be focusing on the teleporter who held up a school looking for it, hm? You know as well as I do that putting this rabble on the list of suspects was just a formality. They're inconsequential; why and how would they have gotten their hands on it?”

“Well, then how did they know how to come here, ‘hm’?”

“We can find that out at our own leisure, once they’re safely in custody. Without torturing them.”

“Hey!” a voice called out. It sounded slightly slurred and a little thick, but was still recognizable as Skew. “This is behavior not becoming of a hero! I demand to speak to your supervisor at once!” He began giggling, but quickly broke down into a series of hacking coughs, and Shauna sighed. She’d like to be able to chalk it up to the concussion he obviously had, but this was pretty standard for him.

“What the criminy's wrong with him?” Considering it sounded like it belonged coming from a radio in the 1920s, this new member of the conversation had to be Balthazar.

“He has a third-degree concussion, fifteen fractured bones and some mild internal bleeding.” The crackling, distorted nature of the voice meant that this was the hero in the mech suit, Galvanize. “Caused, of course, when you decided that blowing the entire room up was a better option than just neutralizing them, which Balthazar or I could have done easily.”

“All the more reason, then,” Paladin interjected, “to get this over with. He needs medical attention, and so do they.” She assumed that the hero was referencing the unconscious teleporter and her associates.

“For them?” Awestruck spat. “They can all-”

Bright blue flared over Shauna’s vision, and she jerked back, nearly falling over. The light disappeared as quickly as it had come, and was replaced by writing in the same color light. It's Foresight, the writing read. It flickered, then changed. If I can blind them, do you think you can hit them? Just nod or shake your head, I can see you.

Well, that was new. Sanjay had never even hinted he could do something like this. In fact, he’d gone out of his way to obfuscate his powers as much as possible.

Shauna, you are taking forever, and it is physically painful.

“But it's barely been a sec-”

All those times I said I was a quicker thinker than any of you, I was being literal. Now, he’s or no, can you hit them?

Could she? Three of the four could fly, and the fourth would have shields. But if they were blinded…

“Maybe?” She’d barely voiced the thought when the writing changed again.

Good enough, I suppose. Okay, I'll give you a countdown. Be ready.

The writing disappeared, replaced with a number that stayed in the center of her vision. It started at ten, and began ticking downwards, and she hurried around to the edge of her cover. She could just send her wave straight ahead, but then it would throw the rubble everywhere, and Skew along with it. So she’d have to actually leave cover to do it, which meant that timing was going to be important.

As the timer hit one, she spun around the last few pieces, pushing herself up from a crouch. As she did, she tapped into the font of raging flames in her core, and brought her left hand rising up as she clenched it into a fist. Her usual waves, the ones that radiated out in all directions, were easy to do, barely even requiring a touch. For this, though, a little more effort was required.

Following the motion of her fist, a flat, oblong lump rose out of the tarmac, about 6 feet wide and 2 feet long. It almost came up to her waist, and tapered off smoothly at the edges, melting seamlessly back into the road. She could already feel the strain beginning to set into her arm, like lifting a heavy weight, so it was good that she didn’t have to hold it.

Without missing a beat, she raised her other arm above her head and slammed it down, channeling the blazing energy through it in an invisible hammer blow. The tension disappeared as the lump violently depressed, dropping down into an inversion of its original shape so quickly that you could have missed it by blinking. As it did, the surface in front of it shot up in an opposite motion, but this one didn’t stop at waist height, and nor did it stay in place. It shot forward in a wave, rapidly rising until it was easily taller than Shauna and far longer than the one that triggered it had been, distorting the road lines as it passed over them.

In the second before it blocked out her view, she could see the heroes rearing back, surprised. The blue glow covering their faces meant that Foresight's claim had been legitimate, hopefully.

Not bothering to wait and see whether or not it had been successful, she turned and sprinted towards the bundle of multi-colored rags lying limp on the ground. As she did, Ricochet and Foresight dropped out of the air, Ricochet stumbling and clutching at her hand, Foresight’s eyes snapping open just before hitting the ground and landing like he’d been expecting it all along. That meant either she’d actually managed to knock the telekinetic down, which was just spectacularly unlikely, or she had at least hit him hard enough that he'd had to focus on shielding. Same effect either way.

She skidded to a stop next to her prone girlfriend, dropping into a crouch and frantically rolling her over, searching for signs of life. Ordinarily she wouldn’t even be able to move any of the wraps of disparate fabrics, Natalie's power holding them as solid and firm as steel, but now they hung loosely like… well, like fabric. “If you're feckin' dying on me, I'm gonna kill you,” she hissed under her breath. “And then I’m gonna feckin’ kill you for making me use that cheesy-ass line.”

As soon as she reached for her wrist, though, feeling for a pulse, Natalie groaned, coughed weakly. “I think my bruises have bruises,” she whispered, sounding pained.

With a sigh of relief, Shauna went to hug her, then pulled back once she realized what a terrible idea that would be. “That's what you get when you attack a Dragon, you dummy.”

How sweet. You idiots. The light writing reappeared in front of her eyes, and Natalie's too. Move, before they figure o

There was a boom behind them, and Shauna instinctively spun and raised another short wall, but it didn’t make a difference. A shockwave tore through it, and while it took the brunt of the blow, that’s not the same as all of it. The remaining power was more than enough to rock them back, and before they could recover, an invisible grip hoisted them off the ground again.

“I guess that's what I get for not heat-scanning,” said the distorted voice of Galvanize. She sounded rueful through the static. Awestruck hovered above her, looking even more pissed off than before. Balthazar was squinting and wincing slightly, his top hat askew, but he was still holding all four of them up in the-

Three. Not four, Foresight had disappeared. Where had he gotten to? And how?

Apparently, Paladin had noticed that too. “Do it again,” she barked, “because you obviously can’t count-”

A crackling buzz of ozone filled the air, and arcs of electricity began appearing in the space between the suspended Outliers and the heroes, centered around an empty circle. The sparks increased in intensity and frequency, and then, a flash, and three figures appeared. Two heroes, and a figure in white, with a lavender scarf.

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