Never 1-IV

Never Lose.

The flare of light only lasted a brief moment. The shockwave of pure force that accompanied it also only lasted a brief moment, but let me tell you, ‘a brief moment’ means two very different things in those two cases. For example, a brief moment of bright white light just caused my to shield my eyes (although it could have been worse if I wasn’t wearing tinted goggles). A brief moment of a shockwave, on the other hand, slammed into me and actually tossed me back a few feet, as well as kicking up a giant cloud of dust. It was completely soundless, though, which was pretty freaky.

I pushed myself up onto an elbow. See, that’s what happens when communication breaks down. You get friendly fire. I was just lucky nothing was broken.

The dust was thick enough that I couldn't see more than a foot in front of me, so it was a surprise when a hand suddenly appeared in my face. I recognized the glove, and grabbed it with my own, allowing them to haul me to my feet.

“A little warning would've been nice,” I whispered quietly, not wanting to give away our position.

“Sorry. Didn't know you were here.” Taller than me, wearing a WW2 pilot's uniform in tan and blue, Freefall’s face and tone were equally reserved. She was the newest ‘member’ of  the Outliers, having only joined less than two months, under circumstances I'm still a little fuzzy on. Despite that, though, she’d apparently impressed Void (our leader), through being quiet, sensible, and perfectly willing to kick colossal amounts of ass. I hadn't really interacted with her too much, but the few meetings we had had had (triple, nice) given me a good impression. This scenario, on the other hand, was chipping away at it slightly.

“What happened to your earpiece?”

“Took a hit. Broke.”

“You took a hit, in your ear?”

She shrugged. “Apparently.”

I considered it for a second. “...okay, fair enough. What actually happened here?”

She pursed her lips, looking pissed. “Tried opening with a drop, but forcefield one saw in time, stopped it. Tide threw them off, but Snake Hair knocked her down. Strongarm took out Stonewall and Ribbon. Hit the shield again, but can't go all out because he's using Tide as a shield.”

I raised an eyebrow. “That wasn't all out.”

She actually smirked, the first emotion that wasn't mild frustration I'd seen from her. “Not even close.”

Well, that was a little scary. I didn't let it show. “Right. Would full power kill all of us?”

It took her a second to reply. “...probably.”

“Half that?”

She shook her head. “Don't be exposed, though.

“Okay, and how long will that take?”

“...four minutes?”

Four minutes, okay. I could do that. “Right. Do that, when I say go.” I set four minutes on my watch, ready to start. “Aim for the edge of the crater, a little in.”

She nodded, not questioning me, which I liked. “You'll get the others out?”

“I'll do one better.” The dust had started to clear, the light but persistent breeze carrying it away. “Okay, go.” Freefall nodded and disappeared, and I started the timer and burst into action.

4:00

I leaped down into the crater again. Strongarm and Ribbon were in the same positions I'd last seen them, but the villain was crouched lower, one hand dug into the ground. That'd be how he avoided getting knocked away by the blast. His eyes widened as he saw me barrelling towards him, and he straightened up and took a swing at me. I could've used my momentum to charge him, but getting into close quarters with a guy that strong was generally the type of thing I tried to avoid. I'm good, but not that good. Instead, I watched the leading of his swing (sloppy stuff) and skidded underneath it, using the slope to my advantage. While I was down there, I grabbed a handful of dirt, and as I sprang up, I drove a knee into his chest and flung the dirt into his unprotected eyes.

He reeled back, muscle shifting around to split evenly amongst his limbs to save his balance. “Ooh, what's wrong, Stretch Armstrong,” I quipped, “not willing to get dirt-y?”

I don't know if his reaction was from the pun or more general, but it was probably justified either way. He roared and stepped forward, swinging both hands together in a hammer-clap towards my head. I swayed back out of range, and as he overbalanced forward, I dived down towards him, into a roll that brought me up almost between his legs. So I did what any sensible person would do.

I hit him hard enough in the balls that he'd be singing soprano for weeks.

He squeaked, and toppled to the side. Once he hit the ground, curling up into a fetal position, I gave him a push with my foot and sent him rolling down the incline. One down, three to go.

3:17

Well, that wasn't strictly true. They were all sheltered behind the shield, and I had to stick to the plan. My focus right then should be getting the others to safety, and figuring out some way of getting Tide out of the forcefield claw she was held in.

I picked up Ribbon’s limp form, hiking her arm over my shoulders. I could see Medusa glaring at me from inside the shield, creepy tendril hair waving about in agitation, but she couldn't do anything from in there.

“Earth to Nat,” I said softly as I lugged her towards the edge of the crater. (Nat is her real name). “This is ground control.”

“Shauna?” she murmured, slightly slurred. That's Tide: she and Ribbon have a thing.

“No, it's Skew. Sorry.” We'd reached the edge, and I checked my watch quickly.

2:49

“Oh,” she said. “We win?”

“Working on it,” I replied, looking up at the sky. I thought I could see the slightest twinkle. “But I'm gonna need to just put you down- woah!”

It was only luck that allowed me to dodge. A yellowish-green bolt of energy streaked out of nowhere, slamming into the dirt next to my foot. All the ground it touched immediately turned into stone. I whipped my head around to see both Medusa and the forcefield guy looking at me, the former with her hand outstretched and steaming slightly. He must've opened a small hole in the shield for her to use. “Sorry, Nat,” I said as I lowered her to the ground, “I gotta handle this. Try and shield yourself, yeah?”

I only got an incoherent grunt in response.

2:16

Okay, now Tide. This was going to be trickier. I didn't have any tricks that let me break forcefields, after all. Unless…

I examined the idea, stepping to the right to avoid another blast. Yeah, it should work. It'd probably leave me dangerously low on power for the plan, but I'd manage.

I began running down  the slope again, towards the forcefield. Medusa snarled noiselessly, and unleashed another few bolts, but they didn't move that fast, and I easily dodged them. The half dome of the shield was about a meter in from the edge of the centre of the donut; if I had to guess, I'd say it had been at the edge originally, but he'd moved it back in to conserve strength. I came over the lip at a dead sprint, heading straight for the shield. As I did, I grabbed another handful of dirt. Sure enough, Medusa summoned a petrification bolt again and let it fly at me, passing through a hole that opened in the shield just long enough for it to pass through. I flung the clump ahead of me, straight into the bolt. Instantly, it was transformed into a stone about the size of my fist, which I hurled forward at the shield.

It broke apart on impact, but it wasn’t meant to do anything other than startle and distract them until I reached the barrier. They all flinched back from it, and that gave me the opportunity I needed. Not slowing in the slightest, I hit the forcefield and ran up the side. It was slightly soft and springy beneath my feet, but still solid. Its creator stared at me, open-mouthed for a second, and then it began shifting underneath me, trying to grab at my feet. It was pretty slow, though, so it couldn't get a grip, and I easily reached the claw holding Tide.

Without missing a step, I reached down into my well of power, summoning up a rush of cold energy. Unlike normal, I didn't direct or focus it in any way, just swung it like a hammer, straight at the forcefield.

Powers interact in a consistent manner. Like vinegar and baking soda: fine on their own, but combine them, and things got violent.

The section of the shield shattered into fragments, almost invisible in the night lighting. I felt my power break too, but seeing as it was raw and unfocused anyway, it didn't really make a difference. Tide's limp form fell from the air, and I caught it and continued running. I was lucky it was her: she didn't weigh 100 pounds soaking wet.

I bounded down the other side and off the shield, dodging another flurry of blasts from Medusa, and running up to the edge of the crater.

0:47

I sprinted round back to my original position and dumped Tide with Ribbon, who had set up her remaining fabric in a shield. “Stay down,” I told her, and she nodded.
0:30

I ran back down into the crater, finding the spot I’d agreed on with Freefall. If the Cabalists were bemused by my running around, they didn’t show it. Medusa, like the one-note, she is, tried blasting me again, but the forcefield generator stopped her. He pointed upwards, they engaged in what looked like fierce debate, and then the shield shrank until it was barely covering them. All the while I just stood there, arms by my sides.

0:10

They thought they’d figured it out. They were wrong.

0:05

I looked up to see a bright white comet streaking down out of the sky towards me. I gathered almost everything I had left in my well, and, just before she hit, I used it to turn her sideways.

Straight towards the shield.

Freefall’s power, like a lot of paranormals, was actually a few lesser abilities that synchronized together into a ‘theme’, for the lack of a better word. Her main power allowed her to store up energy while airborne and release it upon impact. The longer she was in the air, the more energy she built up. She had a secondary ability that allowed her to survive a fall from any height, or maybe that was the first ability sending all her momentum outwards in the blast, but it was her third power that really made her formidable: namely, the ability to teleport straight up. It would’ve been an annoying limitation (and you can’t imagine how useful it’d be to have a proper teleporter) but it synced up well with her other power.

The forcefield generator had obviously countered this by strengthening his shield on top, the only angle she could approach from. Add me and my power into the mix, though, and…

Well, ever seen an egg get hit by a bullet? Take that, and replace the bullet with an artillery shell.

I was thrown back into the inclined ground as a shockwave of pure force erupted from the point of contact. I tumbled and rolled, deprived of any avoidance my power could have provided, and blinded by the cloud of dust thrown up by the wave. I coughed, and a sharp pain shot through my chest. Aw hell. That was not good. Wheezing, I pushed myself up onto one knee. I opened up a channel to the whole team on my earpiece. “All-,” I broke off as I choked on some dust in my throat. “Everyone, report in,” I finally managed to grate out.

“This is Li- uh, Ricochet. I got eyes on the scene, jus’. You okay, Flint? Ya don’t sound great.”

“Flatline, reporting in lieu of Vortex. We’re just a few streets back, and it shouldn’t take us more than a few minutes.”

“…Foresight, still standing guard over a bunch of unconscious bodies.”

Freefall appeared out of the dust again, looking significantly more worn than before. I nodded to her, and she nodded back. “Can you manage one more?” I asked her quietly. She grimaced, but nodded. “Short one, just to clear the dust.” In a blink, she was gone.

I switched back to the coms. “Acknowledged, all. Ricochet, Freefall’s going to clear the dust. I want a takedown shot on the forcefield generator.”

“Gotcha.”

“Good. Vortex, Flatline, get in here as quick as you can. Freefall and I’ll keep ‘em occupied till then. Let’s en-” There was a thump, and another shockwave slammed into me, but this one was only strong enough to make me take a few steps back.

As the dust cloud rolled past me, I got eyes on the center just in time to see Pincer convulse and collapse to the ground as a crack sounded out in the distance. Medusa and the eye guy were on their backs and struggling to rise. Medusa due to getting hit by two shockwaves in a row, and the other one because Freefall had just booted him in the face. With a spray of blood from his nose, he went flying back to the ground, landing next to a duffel bag I hadn’t noticed before.

Medusa had struggled up onto one leg, facing Freefall and seemed to be preparing to send a bolt out at her. I took a perverse pleasure in hooking her leg out from under her and sending her face into the dirt. I rested one of my feet on her head and pushed down, grinding her face into the dust.

“Okay, lady, there are two ways the remainder of this ass-kicking can go down. Option one is that you continue to lay in the dirt until our friends show up, and we all go on our way with a minimum of broken teeth. Option two is-” I felt something yank on my leg, pulling me down and sending me crashing to the ground just past her. I tried to hide the involuntary wince as my chest spiked with pain, and looked down to see her hair wrapped around my leg, and, just beyond that, her face looking up at me, with malice oozing from every pore. She bared her teeth, unnaturally sharp and pointy, and began pulling my foot towards her mouth.

So I used the foot she wasn’t holding to kick her in the mouth.

Point of information: I like very heavy boots. She reeled back, screaming through the hand she held to her mouth. I jumped up onto my feet (and dear God did it hurt), and grinned through the pain. “You have selected option two: a maximum of broken teeth, and you biting the dust until our friends arrive. Would you like to confirm your choice?”

She screeched and charged me, sending a blast forward in front of her as she sprang off the ground. I ducked under the bolt and waited until she was close, then feinted to one side. She followed the fake, hair whipping forward, razor-tipped strands ready to cut me to pieces. They slashed through the space I had been standing a second ago as I bounded forward, grabbed a handful of her hair, and yanked down as I went past her. Her head hit the ground with a dull thunk, and I jumped back away, cognizant of her hair this time.

“You have selected Option Two. Thank you, and enjoy your beating.” I strolled over and picked up the duffel bag, tossing it to Freefall. “Could be something cool. Ricochet, nearest hero team?”

“Uhh, the Guardians, I think?”

“Estimated ETA?”

“Precisely fuck-if-I-know minutes.”

“Thanks, Ricochet, that’s very helpful. Alright, we’ll leave them for the ‘heroes’ to come and book. Freefall, go find Stonewall. Get him, Tide and Ribbon to the others when they show up. I’m gonna have a little chat with our friend here.”

I crouched down in front of Medusa’s limp body. Her eyes burned with hate and she still breathed, but she didn’t seem to have the energy left to mouth. “When you get out,” I said quietly, “you tell your boss. Whatever she’s got planned, I’m gonna stop it. And tell everyone else this. We’re here to do what they,” I pointed up at the Tower in the distance, “can’t. We’re the Outliers, and we’re gonna kick this sorry-ass city into shape.”