New 25-III

HANNAH
Crazy Random Happenstance.

In the end, Kai ended up carrying me all the way home. I would’ve protested, but I really didn’t have any other options. Besides, I figured it wouldn't be too bad. Mom usually ended up working Saturday nights, and Dad had said he had a meeting.

So it came as no small surprise when we rounded the corner and found my house lit up like a christmas tree.

“D*mn,” Kai said, either not noticing or ignoring my sudden reticence. “This is a nice neighbourhood.”

“Uh, yeah,” I stammered. “Listen, I can make it from here. Thanks so much for all your help-” I disentangled myself from her, took one step and immediately fell flat on my face.

“Sure you can,” Kai said dryly as she hauled me back onto my feet. “Which one’s yours?”

I groaned, half in pain and half in defeat. “Fourth on the right.”

The door opened almost immediately after the bell, to reveal my dad standing there. He froze, eyes darting between Kai and I. I opened my mouth to say something, but before I could, he enveloped me in a crushing hug.

“dad,” i choked out. “Air.”

“Sorry, sorry.” He released me, stepping back. “We were just so worried-”

“David, who’s- HANNAH!”

“No!” I cried before I could stop myself. “No hugging,” I repeated, calmer. “Please. I’m very sore.”

Mom stopped halfway to me, slowly lowering her outstretched arms. “Oh. Of course.” I couldn’t quite read her expression.

We were hustled inside and into the kitchen. Kai tried to protest, but we were still entangled, and it got lost in the rush. She ended up sitting next to me on one of the kitchen stools, holding a steaming mug of tea and looking slightly bemused.

“What happened?” Mom demanded immediately. “Why weren’t you answering your phone?”

“We’re so glad you’re safe,” Dad added.

“We were so worried! How did you get hurt?!”

“We're so glad you're safe,” Dad repeated, glancing at Mom.

She backed off slightly. “Yes, of course. So glad.” Her glare still said how dare you, though.

“We, uh. Uh.” I glanced down at my own mug, trying to hide my face. I’d been too out of it to think of coming up with a story. “I was, er. It was-”

“We at the station,” Kai interjected smoothly, “when that… when it happened.” She sounded perfectly convincing as she lied. “Hannah got hurt in rush, but the whole area was in chaos. We thought it would be safer to get away rather than try and get to the hospital.”

My dad nodded, a bit teary. Mom looked less convinced. “And what were you doing at the station? And why didn’t we know you were there?”

I couldn’t muster up the energy to try and respond. “Sorry,” I muttered, head down.

“We’re just glad you’re okay,” Dad reassured me.

“And who are you?” Mom turned on Kai, who seemed a bit surprised by the sudden attention. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Uh, my name’s Kai, ma’am.” Good call with the ma’am. “I’m, uh. I’m Hannah’s… friend.”

“That’s odd,” Mom replied suspiciously, “I don’t remember Hannah ever mentioning you be-”

Dad cut her off, laying a hand on her shoulder. “She’s Hannah’s friend, Sam,” he said with a slight grin. Oh no. “It’s very nice to meet you, Kai. Thank you for bringing our daughter home safe.”

“Uh,” she muttered, shrinking in her seat like she was trying to melt into it. “No problem.”

-----

“You didn’t have to do that,” I said quietly. Kai had made up an excuse about needing to go, and we stood on the front porch. “You didn’t have to do… any of this, I guess.”

She shrugged, a little awkwardly, hands in pockets. “Yeah, I guess I didn’t.”

“Well, uh. Thanks.”

Was she intentionally avoiding eye contact? “No problem.”

“Also,” I added, wincing slightly, “I think my parents think we were, uh. You know.”

She was definitely doing it deliberately. “What?”

I coughed. “You know.”

“This?” And then she kissed me.

It was… it was…

Well, it was private.

She drew back, leaving me standing there, gaping slightly. “I’ll, uh, call you.”

All I could do as she walked off into the night was mumble agreement. 

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New 25-II

FLINT
All The Times That You Beat Me Unconscious.

I clawed my way back up out of the darkness, and shot upright with a gasp.

I spun around frantically, heart pounding as adrenaline rushed through my system. Where was he, I needed to-

I froze, then sucked in a deep, slow breath. Calm, Flint. It’s over.

It’s over.

“Holy shit, I survived,” I said out loud. On some level, I honestly hadn’t expected to. Which was… worrying.

I hadn’t been out for more than a few minutes, I was pretty sure. The moon overhead was in pretty much the same place, and the all the blood had only just begun to congeal. That was good; if I’d been unconscious for longer than that it was probably a pretty good sign of lasting brain damage.

I let myself flop back onto the ground, and immediately regretted it as the motion made my ribs flare with pain. Oh right, I’m seriously injured. As if the thought had flicked a switch, awareness of all the places my body was fucked up came rushing back, including some I hadn’t been aware of before then. For example, my legs ached like a bitch, probably from the fall, and… I flicked my tongue around a bit inside my mouth experimentally. Yep, one of my teeth was wiggling around. Fuck me, that was gonna be hard to explain away.

I sighed, staring up at the stars. I really should get up and destroy the datapad, I thought tiredly. I should do that right now.

I continued to lie there.

Until, that is, the corpse next to me began to move.

“NO!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, shooting awkwardly to my feet. It was shaking and shivering, jolting around, and the fragments of head lying on the ground were too. “NO! YOU CAN NOT! I AM SO FUCKING DONE WITH ALL YOUR GODDAMN BULLSHIT-”

With a wet, gristly noise, the body came apart. The fragments that had previously spun in a vortex fell limply onto the ground, forming a bizarre pile of skin, meat and bone. I stared at it for a second, then sagged. Okay, so. Weird and gross, but better than the alternative. I resolved to come back with Lis and set fire to the pile, just in case.

I was about to turn towards the datapad, when a glimmer in the pile caught my eye. I frowned, turning back. Was that-

White crystals rose slowly out of the meat, streaming together, and then Edith reformed from them and dropped down to the ground.

I stared at her, frozen in shock. “H- you- how?!” I stammered.

She ignored me, straightening up and looking around. She must have shifted just before getting… absorbed, I guessed. It couldn’t have been pleasant or easy; she was so emaciated now that I was pretty sure I could actually see the white of her bones through her skin.

“Where is it?” she said flatly.

I glanced around, and spotted it in the corner of my eye, almost directly behind me. My body must’ve been blocking it from her. “Edith,” I said slowly. “It’s not going to help.”

“Where,” she repeated, “Is. It.”

“E,” I said softly. She froze. “It’s too dangerous. You know that. You can’t even look at the fucking thing without turning into an M.C. Escher painting.”

“You seemed to have managed.”

“Exceptional circumstances.” Ones that I was still pretty fuzzy on. “And trust me, you really don’t want to try and replicate them.”

“So what do you want me to do, then? Just… give up?

Yes. “No. But, just. Drop this one. Find another lead.”

“I have spent a year and a half looking, and this has been the only one. But sure, I’ll just find another one under a rock.”

“Edith, it’s not a lead, it’s a weapon.” I clenched my fists. “I want her to be found too, you know that, right? But this… no-one can have it. It’s too dangerous.”

“I won’t use it.”

“You don’t have to. Someone else just has to hear you have it, and come and take it. Like we did when we set this whole mess off in the first place.”

“It would be worth it.”

“...would Eve agree?” I asked softly.

It was like I’d punched her in the gut. For a second, I almost thought she was going to collapse. Then the moment passed, and she recovered. She growled wordlessly at me, then disintegrated into a stream of salt and disappeared over the edge of the building.

I sighed, limped over to where the datapad lay, and carefully and methodically smashed it into a thousand tiny pieces.

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New 25-I

HANNAH
Not A Good Sound.

In the space between losing one body and ending up back in the other, I saw something. Only for a moment, only just the briefest flicker, but I still comprehended what it was.

It was me.

Or, not. Not quite. It looked like me, almost, but it- she, was made entirely up of strands of light, twisted together to form the shape of a person, like a hologram. The strands were every color I could imagine, and some I couldn’t, of varying thicknesses and opacities. The other me hung in a void of white, one hand reached out towards me, an expression of worry on her face. Instinctively, I reached out to grasp her hand-

And I woke up.

It wasn't as violent as before, when I'd been forced. I didn't slam back into the body so much as I was dropped. My senses returned, wind and exhaust and cold and blood, and then the pain came a second later. My head throbbed incessantly, and when I tried opening my eyes, my vision was almost entirely white, and swimming around the edges. There was still some blood in my mouth, and my lungs and stomach were as raw and painful. I coughed weakly, which only made the pain worse, and another splash of blood flew up into my mouth, making me gag. Some of it dribbled out of the corner of my mouth, and I tried to reach up and wipe it away.

My arm twitched slightly from where it lay at my side, but that was it. I frowned, and tried again. This time it jerked up a little further, but it was like the energy I was using away was bleeding away before it got to my arm. I tried moving my other limbs in turn, and got the same result. Even moving my head forward took a monumental amount of effort. Standing up, or even sitting up, was out of the question. I guess the internal beating wasn't the only consequence, I thought, too drained to be anything but wry.

I wasn't breathing properly either, I realized, which might explain why my vision was so faded. I concentrated on my lungs, putting as much effort as I could into every inhalation and exhalation, and slowly my brain started to come back into focus. I hadn't even realized the effect it had been having on me until it went away. What would've happened if I hadn't? Would I have continued to lie there, slowly asphyxiating without knowing? What a way to go, especially after everything I'd already-

The memories I'd temporarily managed to forget about came rushing back, and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to banish the gory images from my mind, and failing miserably. Visions of blood, of body parts scattered across the pavement, filled my mind, and i lost control of my breathing again, devolving into short, panicked-

“Holy sh*t!”

I jerked my head up, which in my current state translated to raising it slightly. A second attempt managed to lift it far enough to see a pair of legs in front of me.

“Wisp?” a familiar voice asked. “Uh… Hannah? Are you…?”

After a couple of goes, I got my mouth moving in vaguely the right manner. “Hey Kai,” I slurred tiredly.

“Jesus,” she muttered, hunkering down into my field of view. Her face was covered in scratches, and a bruise was beginning to form on her cheekbone. One of the lenses on her sunglasses was cracked, and I could see a little bit of her eye through it. “What happened? To you, and, uh, in general.”

“Long story,” I murmured. “Really long, really awful story.”

“I’ll bet.” She rocked back a little. “Can you stand?”

I tried to laugh, but just sort of coughed instead. A little more blood trickled out of the corner of my mouth.

“...I’ll take that as a no.” She moved beside me and slipped one arm under mine and around my torso. I could barely feel it. “Come on, up.” She hauled me onto my feet, sending my head spinning, and she held me up as I recovered. “Let’s get you to a hospital.”

“No!” The force of the words surprised me as much as it did. “No,” I repeated, more calmly. “I don’t… it’s not a good idea.”

She looked me up and down, the implicit message obvious. But, thankfully, she didn’t protest. “Let’s get you to a train station, then."

"Er," I said as we began to limp off into the night. "About that."

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Speak 24-Vignette


I Am Sick.

One year and eight months ago, or thereabouts.

“Edith?” Flint asked hesitantly. He went to place a hand on her shoulder, but paused as she flinched away.

“...sorry,” she said after a moment.

“It’s okay,” he replied carefully. “Are you…”

She stared off into nothing, and didn’t reply.

“If you two are done with yer little cry-fest, I could use some help over here,” Lisette called irritatedly from the other side of the room. She was currently dragging the corpse on of the twins over to one corner of the room, where she’d already moved the halves of other one and Schism.

Flint ignored her, turning back to Edith. “E, I…” he trailed off, words failing him. His mind was still reeling; he’d gone from never seeing anyone die to four within the space of a minute. And that wasn’t even getting into who’d done the killing. And to whom it had been done. “Edith,” he repeated after a second. “I… what’s next? What happens now?”

For a second, he wasn’t sure she’d even heard her. Then, slowly, she let out a long breath, and seemed to… return to her body, he supposed. He wasn’t sure where she’d been, but he doubted it was pleasant. “I don’t know,” she said hoarsely, almost too quiet for him to hear. “I really don’t know.”

He put his hand on her shoulder again, and this time she didn’t jerk away.

“I’m… this was supposed to be it, you know?” she said quietly. He opened his mouth to reply, then realized it wasn’t really a question, and closed it again. “I was supposed to… she was supposed to…” she choked on the words for a second. “...she was supposed to be here. Everything that happened, everything I went through - everything I did. It was going to be worth it. For her. But now…” She made a vague gesture with one hand, and Flint tried not to flinch at the blood staining her skin. “I’m lost.”

“Sometimes…” he tried hesitantly, “life doesn’t work like that.”

He realized even before finishing that it was the wrong thing to say.

She spun on him, knocking his hand away. “Why not?!” she demanded, and he realized she was crying, eyes swollen and red. “Why can’t it?! Why should I have to go through all this, why should I have to suffer? Why should I have to kill and lie and fight my own mother, and then find out the whole reason I’ve been doing it is completely useless!” She was yelling by the end of it, and she shoved him violently back.

“Edith-” he began to say, but she cut him off.

She’s gone!” she screamed. “My. Sister. Is. Gone. She’s probably being… sold for parts in some third-world country, or- or-” her fists clenched, and blood started dripping from them. “...and I failed,” she finished, all the anger draining out of her as quickly as it had come. “I failed, Flint. It’s my fault she’s gone.”

“Edith, that’s not-”

“YO!” They both jumped, and turned to see Lisette waving at them, looking irritated. “Can I please get a hand here?”

“Give us a minute!” he replied. “Edith,” he continued, turning back, “this isn’t your-” But she was already moving, brushing past him and stalking over to where the other girl stood. Sighing, he followed.

Lisette had finished moving the corpses into their corner, where they lay in a limp pile on top of one another. A pool of blood had started to form underneath them, and a nauseating smell was beginning to drift over to them. Flint gagged involuntarily, but apart from a grimace on the latter’s part, neither Lisette nor Edith seemed particularly effective. Lisette was standing with her foot on the chest of Crusade, casually pointing a pistol at his head like it was the most natural thing in the world. Flint had seen people more tense while waiting for a bus, and, not for the first time, worried about the woman he’d gotten mixed up with.

“There’s no bounty on this one,” she said to Edith as they arrived, “so I personally don’ give a rat’s arse what happens to him. I can shoot him if ya want, but I’ll be wanting the fifty cents for the bullet.”

“We can’t kill him!” Flint protested. “Look at him!” The man in question was still unconscious, head lolled to one side and a string of drool stretching to the ground. “I can’t believe you’d-”

“Off,” Edith said quietly, waving a hand. Lisette shrugged, but acquiesced, stepping away, but keeping the gun drawn.

“Thank you,” Flint said, obviously relieved. “Can we-”

Edith stomped on Crusade’s stomach, hard. The Cabalist jerked upwards, choking, eyes slamming open.

“The fuck?!” Flint yelled involuntarily.

Ignoring him, she kept her foot on his stomach, and leant down close. One of her hands wrapped around his throat, not squeezing, but definitely considering it.

“Randall,” she said. Her voice was… empty. Like a robot. “You saw what happened to my mother. Either you give me a better answer, or the same thing happens to you. But this time, I won’t make it quick. You’ll probably bleed out before I finish cutting, to be honest. I’m not too concerned. The end result is the same.”

“Edith,” Flint said, staring at her in horror, “what the fuck.”

“So,” she continued, ignoring him. “What happened to Eve. Who did my mother sell her to. And how can I find them.” She drew back the hand around his throat, and it suddenly turned into a whirling blade of salt. “Think fast.”

“I don’t know!” he blurted out immediately, eyes wide and shaking. “I never met them, it was all-”

The salt blade grew closer, and he cried out as blood flew from his neck. “Wrong answer,” Edith said dispassionately.

“...they never gave a name,” he said hurriedly. “A man just… appeared in here. Said they’d been watching us, that they could offer us power, if we gave them… people.”

“Any people?”

“N-no. They had to have powers, or be closely related to someone who did. That’s why-”

“When was the last time he was here.”

“A-a few months ago.”

“Did he say how he found you.”

“N-no.”

“What did he look like.”

“L-large. Tall, white. Had a beard, bald, wore a suit.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Randall,” she said, and cut his head off.

Flint stared at her in muted shock as she stood up, dusting her hands off. “E-edith, wh-”

She spun on him. “You know what kind of person he was! What kind of things he did! He didn’t deserve to be alive any more.”

Lisette nodded, seeming impressed. “Checks out fer me.”

“What was the point!” he yelled. “So many people had already died, why did there have to be one more?!”

“So that there were no witnesses,” she said grimly.

“W-what?” he stammered, caught off-balance.

“This person thought the Cabal could work for them. Serve their purpose. My mother is gone, but the Cabal doesn’t have to be.”

Realization dawned on him. “Edith, no. No no no no no, you can’t.”

“It’s the only way, Flint.” The words sounded like she was pleading, but as she met his eyes, he found them completely empty. “It’s the only lead I have.”

“Edith, you’d have to- you just said, everything you’ve done-”

“Will be worth nothing if I don’t find her,” she shot back. “If I stop here, everything I’ve done will be for nothing.” Something, some unreadable expression, shone through on her face for a moment, only to disappear again. “...I can’t do that, Flint.”

“So, what,” he demanded, “you’re going to become your mother? Take over? You’re sixteen, Edith. And half the Cabal are dead, anyway!”

“I’ll make it work,” she snapped. “By any means necessary.”

Flint looked down at the corpse of Crusade, and then at the pile in the corner, and a shiver ran down his spine. “Edith,” he tried again, “please. This isn’t right. This isn’t going to solve anything. Let’s just… let’s just go. Let’s leave this fucking building and never come back, let’s go home and get all the blood off and put this entire thing behind us. Please.

She stared at him. “...no,” she said at least, so impossibly tired. “I can’t. I’m sorry, Flint. I need to do this. This blood,” she raised her stained hands, “isn’t ever coming off. I might as well get some use out of it.”

She turned and began walking away. “Edith!” he called after her. “I’ll… I’ll report you! To the Tower, I’ll tell them about-”

“No,” she said sadly, without turning around. “You won’t.”

He watched her leave, and wished she was wrong.

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Speak 24-VII

Face The Flame.

Hanging there, almost floating above the buildings, time seemed to slow.

I hadn't had a chance to look away, or close my eyes. And once I'd even glanced at the symbols on the screen of the datapad, it became impossible to look away. Literally: I was trying as hard as I could, but I couldn't even make my eyeballs twitch.

And they were just symbols, just like Tali had said. Strange, whirling shapes that swelled and shrank, jagged in places, curved in others. I couldn't tell where any of them started or ended, but that didn't stop my eyes from trying, following the paths until it felt like I was falling into them.

However they worked, they were definitely working. I could feel it, a growing, swelling pain that felt like it was somehow coming from two feet behind my skull. It grew and grew and grew, in an instant that felt like an eternity, until I couldn't even think. My stomach began spiking with pain too-

No. Not my stomach. My core.

As soon as I realized that, I could see it clearly. The well of cold power inside me wasn't placid anymore. It roiled, boiling and spiking outwards, feeling like it was tearing my insides apart. It had never even flickered without me directing it before this, and now it felt like it was trying to fight me, destroy me.

Or… take over.

Fuck that. I reached down into the well, grabbing at the power like I always did. This time, it resisted, burning and stabbing me, but I ignored the pain and took hold of it.

That hurt even more.

As soon as I did, though, the world fell away. Oh, now I can do it again?! But… no. It was different this time. Before, I’d seen the lines of motion in ethereal silver and powers in their respective colors, overlaid on a faded, monochrome world. Now, though, it was like I was seeing… underneath. Peeking behind the curtain, maybe.

The world was gone. It just wasn’t. No light, no dark, nothing. We hung in a void of absolute emptiness, two glowing figures made of light. That was another change; I wasn’t seeing out of my own eyes. It was like I was a few feet behind my own head, looking at myself and the other guy, suspended in…

Wait, no. That wasn’t me, or him. They were in the same positions as us, and about the same size, but aside from that… The one in my position was mostly made of yellow light, streaked with other colors in places, and it didn’t have a head, its neck ending in strange, jagged white shards. It did have seven limbs; two extra arms, stunted and malformed, and an extra leg that split off its left just above the knee. The additional limbs looked almost like they’d been grafted on; the joins had the same white shards as the neck. The weirdest thing, though, was that it was broken, like a porcelain statue that had been hit with a hammer. Fragmentation lines ran across it like an earthquake, and pieces and shards hung and angled away from gaps in its form.

The other one was mostly the same, except unbroken, mostly purple (specked with green), no extra limbs, and significantly larger. Its head was the only part of it that was a different color, glowing a bright mix of yellow and red. Those weird white shards joined it to the body, and it was completely featureless.

I had, frankly, no idea what I was looking at, and I didn’t have the time to ponder it, because it was gone a nanosecond later and I was back in my own head. And then it was back. Gone, back, gone, back… the two images flickered back and forth until it looked like they were overlayed.

Which, okay, great, fancy colors. I’m trying not to die here, thanks very much. I did my best to ignore the colors, and slowly began dragging power out of my core-

And as I did, the yellow silhouette began to move.

Ohhhhh.

Alright then.

I pulled every last drop of power I could out of the well, draining it dry. It felt like dragging a cat made out of flaming knives, but I managed to get it, and send it lashing out, in the same unfocused manner that had made the roof shatter.

Not at the big guy, though.

At the red silhouette that was his power.

Time resumed, and a couple of things happened at once.

One, both the silhouettes disappeared. My one, the yellow one, almost looked like it was siphoned away, tearing forward and vanishing. The red on, though, shattered. And back in the real world, the big guy screamed in agony and let go of me.

I wasn't really paying attention, though, because I was kind of going through the same thing, although less violent. I hoped. The plan had made a simple sort of sense in the microseconds I’d had. If my power was turning against me, all I had to do was give it nothing to work with; the tank can’t explode if it’s empty. Problem was, normally I leave a sliver of power left untouched no matter what, because as long as there’s even the tiniest bit left, it keeps filling back up at the normal rate. Going to completely empty, though, that basically knocked it out for a little while, and when it did eventually start trickling back in, it’d be much slower for a while.

All that was a bit secondary, though, to how much it fucking hurt.

I’m not gonna bother with some clever metaphor or whatever. It just fucking hurt. I spun through the air, clutching my head with both hands, eyes scrunched shut. They stung pretty badly, and I felt liquid streaming through my fingers.

Bleeding eyes. That was new.

We hit the rooftop at the same time, even though in his emaciated state I probably weighed twice what he did. I tumbled and rolled, something in my torso crunching painfully, and came to a stop against something large and uncomfortable. I groaned, still clutching my head, and waited for the spinning and the pain to stop. The former did after a few seconds, but the latter seemed to be sticking around, so I gritted my teeth and raised my head, to find the big guy looking at me. He looked about as beat-up as me, covered in grazes and scrapes, and in about as much pain. We locked gazes for a second, and then, in synch, our eyes darted downwards to the datapad on the ground in between us.

I was in a better position, but he was faster. We both got there at the same time, hands grasping at the pad’s smooth surface. He yanked it away, but I punched him in the chin, knocking him backwards. I jumped on him, reaching for the pad, but he hit me in the gut and we both went down. I landed on top, driving my weight into the arm that held the pad. It shot out of his grasp, skittering across the concrete, and I dived for it, but just before my hand closed around it, a shadow rolled over me.

I managed to spin around just in time to catch one of his hands. I tried to get the other one, but, no hand. It pinned me to the ground, while the other strained against my grip, fingers strained like he was trying to tear my eyes out from a foot away.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?!” he roared in my face, spittle flying everywhere. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME?!” I was in a bad position, I couldn’t keep up the same level of force, and his hand slowly began descending towards my face.

“Aww,” I said, straining and sweating, “don’t you like… being brought down to normal?” I couldn’t fight him, so I stopped resisting and instead redirected his hand so it slammed into the ground next to my head. It sent shards of concrete flying out, and I used the moment to drive a knee up into his torso. He winced, but didn’t give me an inch, and he slammed me back down into the floor.

My head spun, and before I could react, he grabbed my neck with both hands and started squeezing. “BRING IT BACK!” he yelled as he choked me. “GIVE IT BACK TO ME!”

My vision started to cloud and go grey. I opened my mouth, gasping for breath, but nothing came. Slowly, my head sank towards my chest.

“HOW?!” he roared, shaking me back and forth as he leaned in close. “YOU ARE NOTHING! YOU ARE A USELESS, BROKEN PEST! HOW HAVE YOU-”

I whipped my head forward, slamming it into his. He reeled back, grip broken, and I surged upwards as glorious air returned to my lungs, hand reaching for his head. Still dizzy, I managed to clap it over his ear, and dug my thumb into his eye as hard as I could.

He screamed in pain, slamming a fist into my core and breaking something, but I grit my teeth and kept grinding it away until I felt a pop and fluid ran down his cheek. I let go as he continued to roar, took the next punch on my handless arm, fracturing it, and grabbed his genitals and squeezed as hard as I could.

The screams shot up in pitch, and I let him drop to the ground. “You wanna know why?” I spat as he writhed on the ground. “You wanna know how?”

I met his eyes, and bared a bloodstained grin. “I have no fucking idea.”

I raised my less-injured leg, and stomped on his head until he stopped moving.

I stared down at the bloody mess on the ground, all the energy draining out of me. “That,” I slurred, my tongue not functioning properly any more, “was for Edith.”

And then my eyes rolled back in my head, and I collapsed unconscious.

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Speak 24-VI

Murderers Try To Hurt Us.

CW: graphic descriptions of gore.

You know people will sometimes talk about how something hurts too much to even register? How something is so excruciatingly painful that it just stops registering with the brain?

Yeah, that’s a load of fuckin’ horseshit. Because he crushed my right hand into a pulp, and I felt every single second of it.

I blacked out after a few seconds, screaming at the top of my lungs, but even that didn’t make the pain go away. I hung in a void, no light, no sound, no thought, just agony. Then I slammed into the ground, and my senses returned, the edges of my vision clouded with red. I was still screaming, I realized, but my throat was too raw to even produce sound, so it was just sort of a weird, raspy whistling noise. I might’ve found that funny, if I wasn’t completely consumed with my hand.

It was… it was a fucking sphere. A lumpy, uneven sphere of flesh and bone, maybe half the size of what my clenched fist had been. Blood leaked and trickled from every part of it, and I could see the marrow inside one of the pieces of bone and then I threw up.

I hadn’t really eaten since the morning, so it was mostly vile. Honestly, I barely even noticed the burn in my throat, considering, you know, my hand had been turned into a fucking cannibal’s gobstopper.

I ran out of breath to keep on screaming, so I started hyperventilating instead; it seemed fairly appropriate. My vision started to waver and grow blurry, and thankfully this time the pain started to fade away with it. I slowly began to topple forwards, falling straight into the blissful, open arms of unconsciousness-

And then Edith punched me.

I snapped back, both mentally and physically; the pain jolting me back to lucidity, and also sending my head physically backwards. It also brought back the pain.

I screamed again, so Edith punched me again. “Stop,” she snapped. “Your hand is useless, agreed?”

“W-what?”

Your hand,” she repeated, “is useless. Agreed?”

I didn’t really understand why she was asking, but there was not really any way to deny it. “Y-yes,” I stammered, “but-”

“Good,” she said, and sliced it off at the wrist.

I gaped, frozen, as the lump that used to be my hand dropped to the ground, bouncing a few times before settling. My… stump spurted blood a few times, but then it just… stopped. I stared at it in morbid fascination, until a jerk on my shoulders snapped me out of it.

“Hold still,” Edith growled, moving back around into my field of vision, holding a strip of cloth that, I realized a second later, she’d cut off of my cape. With surprising skill, she wrapped it around the stump, making a possible tourniquet. “Now get up and make yourself useful.”

Too shocked to really reply, I stood, actually registering the surroundings for the first time. I couldn’t figure out exactly what had happened while I was… otherwise occupied, but it was pretty obvious it had been violent. Thick, uneven gashes had been carved into the ground all around us, and blood had splattered in various places. There was no sign of the big guy, though, and a second later I realized why.

The sound of churning concrete had been coming from behind us the entire time, but I’d been too distracted to notice it. The realization of what that meant brought my brain back into focus, and I spun around, just in time for the noise to stop.

The big guy picked up the datapad with a satisfied sigh. “Much better,” he said with a smile.

Edith glared at me like it my fault. Which, uh. It was.

So…

“Go!” she snapped, and we both charged forward. I wasn’t sure if I was coping really well with the loss of my hand, or if I was just in shock, but either way, I’d take it. I clenched my remaining hand into a fist as we closed in. I’d pay him back for that, I decided.

“You know,” he boomed as we drew close, “I’ve just realized something.”

“Would you,” Edith snarled, “SHUT. UP!” The spear of salt she became speared a hole straight through his torso, but he didn’t seem to care, even as gore splattered out the other side and stained the salt.

“Would you care to know what it is?” he continued conversationally, spinning around to deliver a backhand to Edith as she reformed, knocking her off to the side.

“Listen to the lady,” I suggested as I tried kicking him in the nuts. He blocked it again, but it had been a feint, and I punched him in the face. With my right hand, I realized a second too late.

I reeled back as pain washed through me. Stupid stupid stupid stupid! He went to hit me, but Edith came in from the side and carved a gash in his torso. He was slowing down, I realized.

“You see, I’m very fast,” he said, sounding amused. The fact that he was still standing was ridiculous. He barely had any flesh left!

“Gee,” I growled, staggering back upright. “We hadn’t noticed.”

“But that’s not all.” He tossed the datapad up into the air, and I jerked forward instinctively, eyes locked on it. Edith was quicker, though, and she was there in an instant, arm outstretched to grab it.

He was quicker still, though. He splintered for the barest instant, his fragments blinking over to the datapad, and then he reformed.

Around Edith.

I felt like I’d run into a brick wall. Or like I’d been punched in the face. Or… like I’d just seen my ex-girlfriend get consumed by a human abattoir. There’s not really any simile you can use for that.

He dropped to the ground, catching the datapad again. Did he have more mass now? Oh god. “I’m also,” he continued like nothing had happened, strolling up to me, “very, very strong.” He grabbed me by the collar before I could react. “So I don’t need to carry you to somewhere more populated.” He drew me in close, and I could smell the awful smell of rotting meat on his breath as he whispered in my face. “I just need to throw you.”

He jumped, and once again we rocketed into the air, shooting up above the buildings.

And just before we reached the apex, he shoved the datapad in my face. 

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Speak 24-V

Nobody Get Choked.

The rubble had collapsed a hole in the floor beneath us as well, and formed large pile on the floor below that. There was no sign of anyone at the bottom of course; just rubble and broken furniture.

With the suicidal lack of fucks that was her M.O. these days, Edith landed directly on top of the pile. I, already having been beaten seven ways to Sunday tonight, slowly lowered myself over the edge of the hole and hung until I could drop down safely to the next floor down.

Edith stood on top of the mound of rubble, staring into it. “Might want to stand somewhere else,” I suggested as I approached. “He's probably hiding in the-”

Sure enough, before I could finish, the pile exploded with motion, as the meat cloud reappeared, shooting up out of the gaps in the wreckage at Edith. They surrounded her in a second, but she was just as quick, practically teleporting back up next to me as they tore apart the space she'd occupied.

A second later, he stood there, almost exactly where she’d been. He actually looked worse for wear from the fall, which was honestly really satisfying. He was bleeding in a few places, and his skin was had lost some of its ruddiness.

He also wasn’t holding the datapad.

Edith and I locked eyes for a moment, and then sprang into action. She shot towards him, while I jumped down onto the pile. It shifted under me, but I kept my balance, and immediately began digging, tossing pieces to the side. She’d keep him busy-

I had to drop the chunk I was carrying and duck as he swept over me. Or maybe she wouldn’t. He reformed in the air above me, fist raised, and I just managed to catch his fist on both arms. It made me lose my footing on the rubble, creating a mini landslide that carried me to the bottom. He didn’t have to deal with that, of course; he just shifted again, right before a spear of salt would’ve pierced his head.

I hauled myself to my feet as they resumed their clash, a strange mix of wet, meaty noises and quiet scrapes that frankly made me want to tear my own ears off. I did my best to ignore them as I began digging at the pile again. It wasn’t very large, about as tall as I was and twice as wide, but digging with my hands was still going to take way too much time.

I grabbed a large chunk with both hands, but didn’t pick it up. However this new trick worked, breaking the lock hadn’t hurt, but breaking the roof had. A lot. The lock had been small, the roof had been big. I’d been holding the lock, the roof had been a metre or two away. As far as I could tell, those were the only differentiating factors. This chunk was large, but I was holding it.

I gritted my teeth, and sent a burst of unfocused power down my arms and into the concrete, like I’d done before. Doing it on purpose was harder than I’d been expecting; it was like trying to intentionally fall on your face.

The good news was that the rubble shattered, sending dust and fragments flying. The bad news was that it still hurt, a lot. Not as badly as the roof had, my vision didn’t white out, but still way too much for it to be a viable strategy.

I clutched my head, trying to will the pain away. “Edith!” I yelled. “Switch!” The two of them were on the other side of the room, their respective forms intermingled and tearing at one another. The salt disengaged itself, shooting back towards me. Her body reformed in midair, and she spun and landed in front of me.

“There’s too much,” I said hurriedly, gesturing at the pile. “Can you dig through?”

She nodded grimly.

“Good.” I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to fight him off while she did, but… “Wait. Can you make me a weapon?”

For the first time that night, she actually seemed surprised. Only for a second, though. Then, she actually laughed, and fuck me was it painful, seeing the flicker of joy on her now-gaunt face. “You really haven’t changed, have you?”

She dissolved, and something came flying at me out of the cloud. A short sword, made entirely of salt, with an impossibly-sharp edge. I caught it by the handle, nodded at her, then spun around just in time to catch Meat Machine mid-rush. I swung it through his torso as it reformed, and he roared in pain. It only got about a third of the way through his torso before he shifted away, but I’d hurt him. I. Had. Fucking hurt him.

Booyah.

I flicked the blood off the blade, then brought it back up to point at him. He held one hand to his side; it didn’t seem damaged anymore, but he held it like it hurt.

Good.

As the sound of crunching concrete came from behind us, he charged me again, staying human. He still wanted to keep me in one piece for his fucked up experiment or whatever, apparently. When he got close, he blurred with sudden speed, but I’d been expecting it, and managed to get the sword between us, forcing him to back off. I moved in, trying to gut him again, but he blurred away before I could connect.

“Ooh, not so tough now, are you?” I taunted. Probably not the best idea I’d ever had, but old habits, yada yada.

“Fine,” he growled, sounding frustrated for the first time. I could see his ribs poking out against his skin. “I was doing you a favor. You could have been glorious. But fine. We’ll do this your way.”

Suddenly, he was standing in front of me. I snarled, burying the sword in his guts, but it didn’t seem to faze him at all. I let it go, still embedded in him, and threw a punch at his face, but he caught it in his.

And then he squeezed.

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Speak 24-IV


Sorry for the missed update; I was in Melbourne, interviewing for a college.
-----
End A Conversation.

I flung out a hand, like I did when I used my power, and the big guy tightened his grip on the datapad, drawing it closer to his body. I hadn’t actually done anything, though; I wasn’t going to waste power on anything that wasn’t a sure shot at this point. The main point was to get him to react, and give Edith a second to react. Or, that was what I was aiming for. She’d already started moving, at the same time I had, and a blade of salt passed through the space that the big guy’s wrist had occupied a second ago.

Whoops.

She reformed in the air, still moving upwards. The floor we’d ended up on was a pretty standard open-plan office, with a few cubicle walls here and there, and a surprisingly low roof. She slammed into it, one raised arm taking the brunt of the impact, and dropped back to the ground, clenching her teeth. As soon as she landed, though, she shot forward again, vision hyperfocused on the datapad. One wiry arm whipped around to smack her out of the air as she leaped, and this time I did use my power, redirecting it downwards just as-

Edith flickered in midair, and then she was suddenly lower, and more parallel to the ground. If I had to guess, I’d say she’d switched forms for the briefest second, using the increased control she had when she was salt to change her momentum and position when she reformed. It would’ve worked really well, except-
Yeah.

So we weren’t quite as in-sync as I’d maybe thought. Which, uh, really shouldn’t have been any kind of surprise. It was a mix of wishful thinking and unexamined instinct.

She tumbled along the ground, growling audibly, and rolling back onto her feet directly in front of me. “Look,” I began to say, but she flicked one hand back and a blade of salt swept at my leg. I yelped and managed to jump backwards, but it still opened a burning gash across the front of my shin. It stung, too; salt had literally been added to the wound. On the plus side, it was less likely to get infected now. Yay.

“Hey!” I yelled at her, but she was already gone again. That had been supposed to take my leg off; I’d barely caught the edge of it, and the cut was easily half an inch deep. So… what I had interpreted as “truce”, she maayyyybe had thought was… not that. And with that mindset, my failed attempts to help would probably have looked a lot like actively hindering her.

This time, I didn’t bother trying to do anything as she sliced at the big guy’s legs. He flickered out of the way, and she spun after him. Apparently, though, he’d have enough of her, and with sickening power, a straight blow swept down towards her body. Physical attacks didn’t normally affect her in that form, but intuitively I knew that this one was different.
I wanted to jump in, to do something, but I held myself back. She didn’t want my help, fine. It was a stupid, petty thought, but…

I’m a stupid, petty person.

As the fist descended, Edith’s form split. Two streams of salt rushed around the arm, reforming on the other side. I blinked. I hadn’t known she could do that. As far as I understood, her salt form was still roughly equivalent to her human form; if it lost mass, she lost mass, etc. Doing that must’ve been like tearing her own guts in half with her hands and then pushing them together.

Which did not help the whole ‘terrified of her’ thing.

She flowed over his face, which looked as surprised as mine did, and before he could react, began pouring down his throat. He gagged, and I reflexively winced. I’d seen this one before, and it wasn’t pretty.

Sure enough, the larger part of the salt that was still out of his gullet condensed and snapped back into solid flesh. Edith hung there in the air for a second, her shoulder directly in front of his mouth. The arm attached to it disappeared into his mouth and down his throat. It should have torn his oesaphegus to shreds as it reformed, but judging from the shock and pain on Edith’s face, it hadn’t quite worked out that way.

Even with his mouth gaping unnaturally wide, the big guy’s eyes began glittering with amused malice, and despite the entire arm in his gullet, he slowly began biting down. Edith screamed in pain, disintigrating into salt and shooting away, as he laughed, seemingly completely undamaged. When she reformed, it was on the other side of the room, and her arm was bleeding in multiple places and hanging limp.

Laughter dying down, the big guy turned to me. “So-” he began to say, and I smashed the roof above him with my power and crushed him through the floor with a ton of rubble.

I still wasn’t exactly sure how this new ability worked, but when I’d done the lock, it had been as easy as any other use. This time? It was… not that easy.

Twin spikes of pain shot through my eyes, and I collapsed to the ground, screaming. I’ve never had molten railroad spikes driven through my eyes, but this felt a lot like what I imagined the feeling of that would be.

Slowly, the pain faded to the point that I could see again, and I slowly raised my head to see Edith standing above me, one hand pointed at my face.

“Give me one reason,” she said quietly, wearily.

I marshalled my thoughts. “You can’t beat him alone,” I said quietly.

Her face twisted, but she said nothing.

“Look,” I said, raising my hands as I got to my feet, “we’re at cross purposes, I get that. But what you want from that datapad… it’s not there. Please, please trust me when I say that. I’m not trying to trick you. It’s just…” I trailed off. “If you saw what it did, you’d understand.” Or, I hoped she would. I had to keep reminding myself I didn’t really know Edith any more. The woman standing in front of me, for all I knew, might decide to use it anyway. “But we can both agree,” I continued, “that we don’t want him having it, yeah? So… truce. Just for now. We can sort out the rest afterwards.”

I stuck one hand out, and she stared at it. For a second, I was genuinely unsure of what she was going to do, but then, she slowly lowered hers.

“...fine,” she growled, teeth gritted.

“That’s the spirit,” I replied, faux-cheerfully, looking down at my hand.

She batted my hand aside, and turned around. “Don’t get in my way.” Without looking back, she walked forward and over the edge of the hole.

I sighed, and followed. 

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Speak 24-III

Blocked, Shipped Out, And Bought.

“Edith,” I snapped, before I could stop myself, “break that fucking thing right now.”

She ignored me. Shocker.

Big guy didn’t seem to shaken up by the loss of his hand. He glanced down at it, then back over his shoulder at Edith.

“Funny,” he said mildly, and then tossed me to the side. Onto the roof, thank god. I managed to roll onto my feet, to find him now facing Edith. She still had her back turned, studying the back of the datapad. It was like we weren’t even there.

She must’ve been following us the entire night. I should’ve paid better attention. Then again, I wasn’t exactly going to complain about her showing up now.

“Edith,” I repeated stridently. “Edith! Hey! E!” That one worked. Her head tilted slightly towards, just enough that I could see the edge of one eye. Still silent, though. “Break that fucking thing in half. It’s not- there’s nothing on there.”

The big guy tilted his head at her. Blood still dripped from the stump on the end of his arm. “Nothing interesting here, I’m afraid,” he said dryly. “So I’ll be having that back, now.”

She didn’t move, but I saw her grip tighten. “I don’t think so,” she said, her voice raw. Ooh, that’s not good. She gets all raspy when she’s… not doing good. And right now she sounded like she’d swallowed sandpaper.

“Oh,” he chuckled, “I’m sorry. That wasn’t a question.”

He disappeared into his meat-cloud. Still just as gross as ever. It was definitely smaller now, though. He shot towards Edith, churning up the ground, but she didn’t move until he was right on top of her. Then, in a blink, her hand flicked upwards, sending the datapad spinning into the air, and a second later she disappeared too, a spear of white crystals piercing straight through the meat and bone. Doesn’t seem to do any damage, though; Meat-And-Greet immediately adjusts course, following the pad up into the air. Edith followed him almost immediately, but she was a few seconds behind, and wasn’t going to catch up in time.

Fuck that.

I hit the pad with a nudge of power, sent it spinning towards me. Meaty Chunks had almost had it - I could see a hand half formed in the swirl. He shot up directly past it, curving in a high arc around. Edith did the same, quicker thanks to less momentum, but the pad got to me first, and I snatched it out of the air, grabbing both ends with my hands and raising a knee to-

Shit! I aborted the movement, throwing myself to the side just as Edith spears through the air where I’d been. An instant later, I have to do it again as the meat-cloud finishes its arc and does the same thing.

Shit shit shit. I frantically look around in the half-second I have before. I needed to break the fucking pad, but I wasn’t going to get a second to do it unless I made one. Rooftop meant no running; not that I could outrun those two even if I wasn’t beat to hell. There were one or two nearby buildings that were maybe low enough to do a hop, but right then I didn’t trust my body or my muscles enough to-

I had to cut the train of thought off to dodge another consecutive one-two pass. Edith was second, and she actually reformed in midair for a second, trying to snatch at the pad. I managed to yank it out of the way, just in time. I guess I was lucky, in a way; Meat-a-ccino had already proven he didn’t want to kill me, for whatever reason, and Edith seemed more focused on the McGuffin than me, though I suspected that was subject to change.

Just- fuck! I kept trying to break the fucking thing, but I couldn’t get a goddamn second. Couldn’t throw it at the ground, they’d probably swoop in. Same for tossing it over the edge. If I had a gun, I could just shoot it, but guess fucking what! Come on, come on, come-

There.

A door, leading down into the building below. Being inside won’t be much better, but less space and more obstacles-

FUCK! I couldn’t even marshal my thoughts. Just- go. I faked to the left and sprinted forward. I got a couple of steps unhindered, just long enough to start thinking I’d make it the whole way, before a familiar whirr from behind signals that it’s time to get with the dodging.

I twisted my head around, to take a quick look. They’re both right there, trying to take chunks out of each other as much as they’re gunning for me. Now they seem to be about even; good for them, bad for me. Meatlover went for my legs, while Edith stuck high, aiming for the pad, and by extension my torso. I’m getting one-twoed by my ex and a crazy murderhobo. Wonderful.

Time seemed to slow. Maybe it did, I dunno. Moment of panic, adrenaline rush. The usual. I skipped a step, throwing off my rhythm and slowing me down, then jumped, kicking my legs out to the side and putting me parallel to the ground. The two of them shot over and under me, tearing gashes open on my knee and shoulder, but neither of them got a solid hit or the pad, and I tumbled to the ground as they shot past.

Dead Meat seemed to have cottoned on to my plan, and he reformed directly in front of me. With both hands, I noticed. I hadn’t even gotten back onto my feet yet, so I was pretty sure I was fucked, until Edith sliced straight through him, sending him reeling. How the fuck is it that she’s the only person who’s actually managed to hurt him? I took the opportunity anyway, and turned the roll into a half-slide that got me within a few steps of the door.

Close enough to see that it was held shut with a heavy padlock and chain.

Just fucking typical. I launched myself upwards and forwards, slamming into it with my shoulder, but I don’t weigh anywhere near enough for that to work. It rattles a little, but that’s it.

I grab the lock, and, not even thinking, send a spike of power through it. Seeing as it wasn’t moving, it should’ve done absolutely nothing.

The lock shattered and fell away.

I stared at it in shock. What the actual-

It cost me.

Something slammed into me from behind, sending me flying through the doorway, knocking the thick metal door open as I did. The stairs were right there, barely a landing to speak of, and I only just managed to avoid tumbling head-over-heals down them. It was still an undignified, frantic descent, barely keeping my feet under me, and I hit the wall on the next landing hard. The datapad went flying from my hand, bouncing down the next set of stairs. I reached after it, but my ribs were fucking hurting, and I nearly doubled over with pain.

Edith swept past me, going for it, but just as she reformed, the other guy came out of fucking nowhere, slammming her down into the ground from above. She cried out in pain, and he stepped off of her and snatched up the datapad.

I ground my teeth, and I could see Edith doing the same on the ground. We locked eyes, and I guess we still knew each other well enough to communicate without words.

Truce. 

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Speak 24-II

I Am Death.

Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t prepared for the sound of someone getting impaled through the chest. You got me, I'm not as worldly as I claim. It was less… wet, I guess. Not as visceral. In fact, it was quite a hard sound. Very crunchy.

Talie hung there, held off the ground by… you know. Her face was… still. Like it hadn't registered with her yet. Her arms hung limp by her sides. Slowly, blood began to trickle out of the wound and down his arm. It didn’t seem that there was enough of it.

He sniffed, and flicked his arm to the side. Her body went flying off, tumbling limply to the ground. “Interesting,” he said, sounding amused. “I suppose that certainly would explain it.”

I’d figured it out by now. He got strength from having mass, but had to consume it to get speed. And he’d consumed a lot already. It was probably the only reason the shoulder-charge that I hit him with did anything at all.

He stumbled back slightly, and I kept moving forward, throwing out blows that had about as much effect as hitting a concrete wall. I didn’t particularly care. Keep him off his feet. I tried hitting him between the legs, like I had last time, but I didn’t have the advantage of it being unexpected anymore, and it didn’t connect. He actually seemed slightly unnerved. Or, he didn’t immediately pulp me.

My ears were ringing oddly. There was some loud noise, that…

Oh. I was screaming. That was it.

One of his hands blurred, and caught my fist. I tried to kick him, but he just tossed me to the side.

“Children,” he said dismissively.

I hauled myself back onto my feet. I needed to figure out how to destroy him. I needed to-

He had me by the neck again instantly. I writhed and twisted, spitting at his face, but even though he was now almost painfully thin, his grip was still like iron. I grabbed his forearm with both hands, swung up and kicked him in the face with both feet. It rocked his head back a little, but the hand didn’t slacken in the least. I growled and started digging my fingernails into his skin, drawing small beads of blood from the skin.

“Mm,” he said, disaffected. “I suppose this was to be-” I spat straight at his eye, forcing him to turn his head to avoid it. It splattered against the side of his skull, and ran down to drip onto his shoulder. “...expected,” he finished.

“I,” I snarled, “am going to end you. I’m going to throw every last little piece of you into an incinerator. I’m going to bury you in the foundations of a building. I’m going to-”

He tightened his grip, and I suddenly lacked the air to speak. “No,” he said, “you’re not.”

My vision began to contract as I struggled, going grey around the edges. Fine. I stopped moving, and focused inwards, pulling together every last scrap of power I had, focusing so hard it felt like I was scraping out the inside of my soul. I didn’t really know what I was doing with it, but that didn’t stop me from condensing it all into a tiny, wicked spear of energy. My thoughts were starting to fog over, but I almost had something, some way of-

The pressure around my throat suddenly released, and my lungs involuntarily contracted in a wheezing, heavy gasp. My concentration broke, and I lost my grip on the spear, letting it splinter and fall away. “...why?” I managed to cough.

He smiled, and I immediately wanted to break his teeth and make him choke on them. “Because that wouldn’t be any fun.”

Then he jumped.

The force of the sudden start jerked my head at an odd angle, and I choked, gasping for breath. The wind smacked me in the face as we hurtled upwards, bitterly cold. Without even shifting forms, he’d sent us at least a dozen stories into the air in a few seconds. Not just up, either; we were moving very quickly laterally as well, even as we reached the peak of the arc.

So in addition to everything else, he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Of course.

Dragged behind him like I was, I couldn’t see where we were going, so it was a shock when our fall suddenly stopped with a jolt of impact. The source became clear a second later as my legs smacked against the edge of a roof, then bounced repeatedly off the surface as he skidded to a stop.

I groaned involuntarily. My legs felt weirdly numb, but I was pretty sure they weren’t broken. It wasn’t like I could check, though.

The hand holding me jerked me up again, dangling me in the air. The murderhobo had one foot up on the raised lip of the roof, and was holding me over the edge with a smirk.

I stared him straight in the eyes. Don’t look down.

“You asked,” he said casually, voice raised above the wind, “why.”

Old habits die hard. “I don’t actually care,” I replied, the snark laced with venom. “If this is the bit where you start monologuing at me, you might as well just let me drop.”

He ignored me. “One,” he said slowly. “One. Three.”

I blinked. “What?”

“I was nothing, you know,” he said casually. “Not even nothing. I was a wretch, a wretch’s wretch.”

“Yeah? Maybe you should give it another shot, see how you like it this time around.”

“But I was visited.” His vision seemed to cloud over. “By an angel.

Oh my God. Did I have some sort of sign on my back, that said ‘Religious Crazies, Please Be My Nemeses’? Why couldn’t I have any secular nutjobs?

“She showed me a vision. A beautiful world, filled with strife and blood and glory. All the things I had never known I wanted to see, laid bare before me. And then she blessed me, and gave me a holy mission, so that I could see it come to fruition.”


Wait, was he saying he’d been given his powers? Or, no. It was probably just some crazy story his fucked-up brain had invented after the fact, so he could go around turning people into mulch as much as he liked.

“She showed me the way, showed me the tool I would need.” At that, the hand holding the pad waved slightly. “But alas, she was no true angel. Her commands changed. She shied away from her path, tried to turn me from what she had shown. So I venture forth alone, to spread the beautiful light.”

“Ohhhh,” I said slowly. “I get it.”

He actually seemed surprised. “You do?”

“Yep. You’re fucking crazy.” Smiling seemed wrong, but I did it anyway, vision flat. “Should’ve figured it out earlier.”

As quickly as it appeared, the emotion was gone from his face again. “Ah well,” he said, back to smiling again. “You don’t need to understand in order to further the cause. And you will make such a…” he shuddered joyfully, “beautiful malform.”

I didn’t need to ask what the word mean. “So that’s the plan, then?” I asked, trying not to think about my body distorting and warping like Paladin’s had. “Show me that and drop me in the city centre, right?”

“Ohhh yes,” he said, savouring the words. “You don’t get the honour of being first, but in the large scale, I’m sure it won’t matter all that much.”

Lis, crumpling as her knee shattered. All my friends, bleeding out in the rubble. Talie. This time, I didn’t need to be choking to death to shape my last, desperate attack. The tiny spear formed again, crackling with power inside. “Fuck you,” I said, and-

A blur of white flashed across my vision, and the datapad disappeared from his hand. Along with the hand that had been holding it.

Edith stared at the back of the datapad as she held it in her hands, standing a few feet away from us. “Finally,” she whispered.

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