Greys 10-V

What It Isn’t For

The concrete around their feet was twisted somehow, a distorted ring of material that didn’t quite track with that around it. With the way the air swirled in a similar pattern, I'd guess at it being some kind of space-warping effect; teleportation, essentially, but not nearly as clean or easy as someone like Green Cloak's. Given that it seemed to take a few seconds to work, it was probably more for long-distance transport of multiple people than for combat or rapid transversal. Sabi would probably know where Instance had copied that from, but that didn’t seem very relevant right now.

The two heroes obviously weren’t surprised to have company; in fact, they seemed to be expecting it. There was no surprise in Stump's posture as he looked at me and Kai, and Instance's face stayed calm and relaxed as he casually stepped back into a position where he could see the both of us. He seemed content to let his partner handle this situation, as he crossed his arms and leant back against another ventilation block.

Stump's face was an unmoving mask with empty pits instead of eyes, but I could still see the gears turning in his head. He glanced at the damaged building across the street, then back at me, then at Kai, who was frozen rigid, hands clenched tightly by her sides. “Was this you?” he asked in his hollow voice. Unlike back in the cafeteria, I was close enough, and the background noise was quiet enough, that I could actually hear hints of a second, normal voice underneath it. Far from reassuring me that Stump was still a person, it just made him sound even creepier.

Okay, Hannah, play it cool.  “I-in my defense, he started it.” Okay, so the stammer isn’t great, but otherwise that was a pretty cool line.

“Who are you even trying to impress?” I asked myself.

Ah- …hmmm.

“Yeah. Maybe focus on getting out of here, not sounding cool for the pretty girl.”

Thankfully, I was having a real conversation that I could engage in rather than having to continue with that line of thought. “‘He’ being Carnage?” Instance asked. His voice, by contrast, was almost suspiciously nondescript. He sounded like… like unflavored porridge, like bottled water, like daytime television.

“If that's the name of the Disciple with the stretchy arms, then yes, Carnage.” What a silly name. Then again, given his evident level of mental stability, I doubt he picked it himself. It might be more of a descriptor than anything, in which case I could see the appropriateness.

“Impressive,” he said, and it actually sounded genuine. “How’d you do that?”

“Oh, well, we were up a few floors, so I just grabbed him, went really heavy and dropped us to ground level.”

“Oh, so you’re a density manipulator?”

“Uh, sort of? I guess? It’s a bit hard to explain.”

“Well, that’s good,” Stump interrupted, “because we don’t actually want you to. Who even are you, anyway?”

Instance tilted his head at the other hero, expression imperceptible. I opened my mouth, paused, practiced it in my head a few times, discarded that idea, tried another one, discarded that one too, then settled on something. “No-one important.”

“Ugh,” Stump groaned, resting one hand on his forehead. “You think you sound cool, don’t you? You think this is all a big game? You're having fun?

“Um, excuse me?” Kai had raised her hand tentatively, like she was in a class. “Um, I don’t know exactly what's going on, or who you people are, so, uh, can I go?” That's odd; she seemed to know who the heroes were earlier in the conversation.

Stump spun on her. He seemed… a lot more jerk-y than back in the cafeteria. He had been showboating pretty hard then, though. “Same question: who are you?”

She laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck. “Same answer, but not… was that sarcastic?” That last part was directed at me.

I waggled my hand noncommittally in response. “More… slightly self-effacing and wry? I think?”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Stump muttered.

“…right: but not what she said,” Kai continued. “I was just walking by, when out of nowhere comes this guy, foaming at the mouth and screaming. Carnage, you said?” Instance nodded. “Yeah, Carnage. He was, you know, f***ing crazy, and just throwing out some of the foulest language I’ve ever heard. He came after me, but… she saved me.”

The two heroes turned back to look at me, Instance appearing more thoughtful, Stump… disappointed, almost? Maybe I was reading that wrong. “Of course she did,” he practically hissed.

“Yeah,” Instance said at Kai, “you can go. Have a nice day.” He really did seem to mean it, too. He honestly seemed pretty nice.

She quickly scuttled away, disappearing through the doorway. She’d lied her way out of that pretty effectively, which I would not have called. Hopefully, she was being honest when she said she’d keep an ear to the ground for me, but right now, more pressing concerns were at hand.

“So you’re on the side of the angels, then?” Instance asked wryly. “That doesn’t quite gel with the report that Fog filed. According to the rant she subjected us all to last night, you’re a villain who was assaulting a civilian.”

I spluttered in indignation. “I-what? No, no, no, that nis ot- argh, is not what happened! That man was a Disciple, and I stopped him from assaulting a woman! That teammate of yours is a horrid witch, and she attacked me first. I didn’t even try and hit her, that was-” I caught myself just too late.

“Oh yeah, the Outliers. Associating with a known vigilante group doesn’t help your side of the story much either,” he chuckled. “I am inclined to believe you, though; I doubt that girl was an actor paid to put on a show for our benefit, although stranger things have happened. Plus, I very much doubt you knew we were coming, considering Stump dragged me out here with about five minute's warning.” The hero in question made a noncommittal noise. “And yes, Fog can be… somewhat irritating. But if you genuinely are trying to be a hero, why are you doing it like this?”

I shifted on my ledge a little awkwardly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, because you seem pretty nice, but the more I see about the Tower, the more it rubs me the wrong way. Just… lots of little things, I guess. Plus, if you want something done right…” I gave a weak grin.

He laughed. “I guess I can understand that much. For what it's worth, I think I can say you haven’t seen our better side.”

“Perhaps,” I admitted.

“But enough about us,” he said with a wink. “Can I ask why you came here?”

“K- Instance. Enough.” Stump was apparently taking the role of bad cop in this situation. “Let's just take her in, and get on with this.”

Instance sighed, turning slightly to look at him. “You haven’t even told me what ‘this' is. You just want me for my body.” He said that part in the manner of an old joke, and unsurprisingly, Stump ignored it. “You're being oddly insistent about this.”

“Because she is committing a crime! Why aren’t you being insistent about it?”

“Am I, though?” I said as a thought struck me. “What have I actually done? Wear a costume? Perform a citizen’s arrest?”

“Not registering yourself with the DoM,” he shot back. “And there have been addendum to the citizen’s arrest laws for decades to prevent this exact situation.”

“So I get arrested for saving a girl's life? What kind of-” Something occurred to me, and I cut myself off. “Hold on. If Fog filed a report about me, and ranted at all of you about me, how come you,” I pointed at Stump, “didn’t know who I was?”

He froze. “W-well-”

Before he could continue, there was a high-pitched beep, and the muffled sound of a voice, the words imperceptible. Stump tilted his head to the side for a moment, then spun on the other hero, our argument apparently forgotten. “Instance, we need to go, now. Please tell me you have another teleport.”

“I do,” he confirmed. “What’s happening?”

The wooden hero rattled off an address as he grabbed Instance’s arm. “Outliers and those assholes from the school, in the same place.” My head snapped up at that, but they didn’t seem to notice. “Come on, I’m not missing this.”

He stared at him for a second, then shrugged nonchalantly. “Sure, okay.” He began to glow slightly, and arcs of electricity snapped between them and the ground around them, quickly growing in size and regularity.

“You,” Stump pointed at me. “We’re not done.”

I couldn’t say what exactly inspired such a stupid decision. I think it was that I had just been given a shortcut exactly to the people I was looking for, and I didn’t fancy going the long way round. “No, we’re not,” I agreed. Then, as the arcs approached a peak, and the air began crackling, I launched myself forward across the ground towards them in an awkward roll. I grabbed onto Stump's leg just as the taste of ozone appeared in the back of my mouth. There was a loud snap, and all three of us disappeared.

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