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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Speak 24-I

FLINT
Flame Your Crew.

Nothing happened.

“It's…” Void managed to choke out, looking confused. “It's just symbols?”

“Hm,” the big guy rumbled. “Interesting. Tell me, how do you fake your powers?”

She spat in his face.

“Disappointing. Ah, well. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to figure it out on my own.” Effortlessly, with the one hand still holding her by the neck, he pulled her out of the crater she’d made in the wall and slammed her back into it.

She choked, a spray of blood splurting from her mouth. “Talie!” I blurted out, charging forward. He let me get close, then without even looking, held up the datapad. I flinched away, covering my eyes, and he backhanded me to the ground.

“Wait your turn,” he said. He wrenched Void out again, but once she was out she immediately twisted in his grip, holding his arm with both hands, and kicked him in the chin. His head went reeling backwards with a nasty sounding crunch, but he didn’t lose his grip on her neck. In fact, he squeezed harder, and I could see her face starting to contort as she struggled for breath.

Hey, great opportunity to be less useless. I threw myself onto my feet, grabbing a nearby piece of rubble and swinging it with all my strength at his wrist. It had way less of an effect than it should’ve, of course, but it still loosened his grip enough that she managed to wrench herself free. He immediately swung at her, before she’d even hit the ground, but she caught the blow on crossed forearms.

As soon as she was free, I jumped backwards again. Not cowardice, just common sense. She could take hits, I couldn’t. Instead of attacking again, though, he just stood there.

Real fond of doing that, he was.

“You’re very interesting, you two,” he said slowly, a smile stretching across his face.

“Oh, really,” I said sourly, as Void backed up to stand beside me. “I’m so glad to hear we meet your personal standards of approval.”

“Is that why you left us standing?” Void asked him warily. “Because we’re ‘interesting’?” A little bit of blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth, and she wiped it away with the back of her hand.

“You?” He laughed. “I didn’t leave you anything. But, you have a surprising habit of getting back up when you shouldn’t. And now… this.” He waved the pad around a little, and both of us flinched. “It’s very, very interesting indeed. I never would have guessed you were a fraud. Do you use technology, perhaps? If so, you conceal it very well. My congratulations.”

I was very, very sure Void had powers. I’d seen her do so many things that an ordinary person simply could not.

But very, very sure isn’t the same thing as absolutely sure.

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. “Void?” I asked quietly. “Is he-”

“And you.” Suddenly, I was hoisted into the air. Which, by the by; not a very comfortable position to be in. He’d crossed the distance between us instantly. Void jumped, but before she could react, a fist slammed into her head in a grim mirror of how she’d last hit him, and sent her flying. “You’re interesting in a very different way.”

“Great,” I said, strained. “I’ll add that to my dating profile.”

“You’re so…” he continued, looking almost intrigued, “messy.”

“Um.”

He laughed. “Ah, I do always forget. You can’t see, can you. You can’t sense it.”

“God,” I said, exasperated. “Could you stop being cryptic for like one fucking second?! Jesus.”

He actually seemed amused. “You’re broken,” he said, pulling me in closer, until I could see the tiny chunks of meat stuck between his yellow, uneven teeth. “All twisted and chopped up, and so very, very volatile.”

“That part won’t go on the dating profile,” I muttered.

“I must confess,” he continued, “I am so sorely tempted to show it to you. It would be beautiful. But I’m afraid that might be too much for even me.”

Some dots connected. “Wait,” I said, “Are you talking about my-”

A giant piece of rubble smashed into him from the side, so fast that the momentum didn’t affect me at all. I dropped straight down, landing heavily, and looked up to see Void standing there, panting. “Still think I’m a fraud?” she said. “Also, Skew? We’re gonna have a talk about you doubting me.”

The concrete had pinned the man against the wall, but didn’t seem to have done much to him. In fact, a second later he lifted it and tossed it aside like it weighed nothing at all. “I fail to see any other explanations,” he said, not acting injured in the slightest.

“Here’s one,” she replied. “Maybe your crazy symbols don’t work as well as you thought they did. But if you really want me to prove it…”

I’m not dumb. I dived to the side, just as she punched one fist forward. A distortion shot out of it, travelling across the space between them in an instant, and smashing into his chest. Unlike nearly everything else that we’d pulled, it actually affected him, knocking him back into the wall.

He grimaced, and exploded into his other form, but another distortion tore straight through it and forced him to revert. Frankly, I had no idea what she was doing, but it was working, so I wasn’t about to complain.

“Skew!” she yelled through gritted teeth as she kept punching, walking forward as she did. It looked like it was taking a lot out of her; she looked paler already, beads of sweat rolling down her face.

I nodded, grabbing another piece of rubble and throwing it at him. Unable to move, it actually hit his head, smacking it back against the wall with a satisfying thwack. It worked, so I kept doing it, again and again and-

Void faltered. Just for a second, but it broke the rhythm she’d had going. And he took advantage of it. In an instant, in between attacks and while my next projectile was still in the air, he flickered and disappeared.

And reappeared in front of Void with his arm punched straight through her chest. 

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Stand 23-Vignette


Our Choices.

Now.

“Jesus!” Rebecca Watts yelled involuntarily, as the building rocked and shook around them. “Devin, are you still-”

“Still filming, yep,” her cameraman confirmed grimly, staring down at his camera’s screen. “I got it.”

Rebecca composed herself, placing a steadying hand against a wall. “Alright,” she said, stretching the word out and chewing it a little. “Let's switch to me now, Carlo is going to give the call in a few.” She licked her lips. “How now, brown cow. Howwww nowwww, browwwwwwwn cowwwww.”

They were set up inside an empty office on 15th floor of the McElroy building, access to which had taken no small amount of wheedling on her part. When Carlos had sent her down to cover reports of a “monster” attacking 5th Central, he'd probably expected her to go to the station itself. She'd learned pretty early on in her career, though, that when the big stuff was developing, it helped to be the one network with footage of the big picture.

It also meant that if there was a “monster”, she'd be safely out of the way. If she wanted to be in the thick of danger, she'd take those postings in France that management was always trying to thrust onto her.

A new voice crackled in over her headset. “Watts, you're on in three… two…” Devin swept the camera over to her as she stood in front of the window overlooking 5th Central, and her earpiece crackled as it changed channels.

“...live from the scene,” the anchor, Nnedi was saying. “Rebecca?”

Showtime. She nodded confidently. “That’s right, Nnedi. As you can see behind me, 5th Central has been evacuated, as have the surrounding buildings. Police have cordoned off the street, but as of yet, have not made any statements about the situation inside the station. Whatever it is, though, we can feel the impacts even from all the way up here-” as if to prove the point, another tremor shook the building.

She knew if she was down near the cordon, she’d be able to interview some of the people who had been evacuated. Carlos would probably get on her ass about not doing so later. She saw it as a trade, though; less information now, for better shots later.

“So it’s still not known what’s happening inside?” Nnedi asked.

“No,” she confirmed. “There’s-” Devin suddenly swiveled the camera, and on the attached screen, she could see him zooming in on the station. “Hold on,” she said, staring at the picture as the focus adjusted. “It appears…” It stabilized, and only years of broadcast experience let her hold back her gasp. “It appears someone has... jumped from the platform.”

A figure in pink and white flew outwards from the platform, holding something in their arms. Rebecca distantly heard a gasp from Nnedi, but she was too intently focused on the screen. The angle of the jump didn’t look right, she realized; it was too lateral.

The camera tracked the figure as they crossed the distance between the platform and the next building over, and Rebecca waited with bated breath. They hit the building on the other side, and immediately began slowing as they grabbed it with one arm, something no normal human could do without tearing their arm off. “As you can see,” she said into her microphone, “we’ve just had confirmation that superhumans are involved in this event. The question remains, however; is this figure the cause of the evacuation, or merely responding to it? And where is the Tower?”

The figure reached the ground, hitting the ground in an awkward roll, before clambering to their feet. The object they’d been carrying still lay on the ground, and they leaned down-

“Is that-”

“It appears,” Rebecca confirmed, “that this unknown superhuman has rescued a child from the station. The child appears to be unharmed, and… yes, successfully reunited with their family.” Devin got an excellent shot of the reunion, and she gave him a silent thumbs up. Thank god for the ridiculous zoom on the camera.

“Well, that’s certainly a relief.”

“Indeed, but the issue remains: we still don’t know what was causing all the commotion in the first-” Devin swung the camera up again, and her jaw hit the ground.

“W-what,” came Nnedi’s stuttering voice, “w-what is…”

Rebecca managed to get her voice under control again. “S-some kind of giant, golden monster has just leapt from the platform, and-”

She wasn’t glad for the zoom feature anymore.

“We’ve cut the feed,” Carlos’s voice barked in her ear. “Keep filming, we’ll cut it later.”

She and Devin shared a nauseated glance. “Yes, sir,” she replied shakily.

She forced herself to keep watching the screen. The figure seemed to be attracting the monster’s attention, and it let out a roar that made her wince even from far away, and charged.

“Jesus Christ,” she whispered as she watched them clash amid the mutilated corpses of police officers. “What the fuck is that thing?”

Devin didn’t respond. “Where are they going?” he asked instead, tracking the figure as they ran inside the building that had the train station’s support built in.

“Get some footage of that… thing,” she told him as the figure disappeared, and the monster charged into the lobby. He nodded, focusing in on it as it began tearing the entrance to pieces.

The figure stood there, frozen in the stance of the blow. For a moment, they were still, and then they sagged, staggering backwards. They caught themself, and slowly looked around at the remnants of the monster scattered around them.

Then, a groan, loud enough that they heard it. “Wha-” she began to ask, but Devin was already sweeping the camera up to the station platform, just as it began to collapse.

“Jesus,” she repeated, watching the collapse, and the massive plumes of dust it was putting out. “Did... they do that?”
“I’m not really getting anything anymore,” Devin said, once the station had finished collapsing. Sure enough, the screen was mostly just dust. “Should I keep filming?”

“Yeah,” she said, not entirely sure why. “Maybe we’ll get-” Another cacophonous roar shook the building. “Is that thing still alive in there?!”

“What the hell could survive-”

In an instant, a hole appeared in the center of the dust cloud. A second later, the rest of it was blown down the streets, as a giant gust of wind carried it away in an instant. An awful, visceral crunch reached them a second later.

Standing on the pile of rubble, in the very center of where the hole had appeared, was the monster. It was frozen in place, in a pose that made it look like it had been charging forward. For a moment, it just stood there. Then, it began glowing, brighter and brighter and brighter, until it was almost painful to look at.

Then it shattered.

Golden fragments, and what looked like pieces of flesh, rained to the ground. Standing in the middle of them was the figure, braced with one fist outstretched. Where they were standing, they would have been basically inside the monster.

Suddenly, they sagged, staggering backwards. They caught themself, and wearily looked around at the remnants of the monster around them.

Then they toppled slowly backwards, dissipating into smoke before they even hit the ground, and were gone.

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Stand 23-X

To Stand Up To Our Friends.

The building had collapsed at some point. I’d been vaguely aware of the floor falling away from me, and floating slowly downwards, but I’d been distracted by the deafening sound of tons and tons of concrete and metal collapsing around me.

The noise had settled now, though, lowering to the occasional rumble or crash as the debris settled. I couldn’t see anything at all; my vision was completely black. I was sort of beyond panic, though, so I just picked a direction and began walking.

After a minute or two, between steps, light pierced my eyes like rail spikes. My head had emerged from the rubble, and even though it wasn’t that bright, the transition from absolute darkness still made it painful. I winced, squinting as my eyes adjusted, and looked around.

The dust swirled through the air, thick and heavy. It was a sight I was getting very used to today. I watched it pass through me, and was suddenly glad I was intangible. It looked as if it would be like trying to breath through the filter bag of a vacuum. I took a deep, airless breath anyway, not disturbing it in the slightest.

The dust prevented me from making out any detail, but I didn’t need to to get the essentials. The building, and the ones on either side of it, had been crushed to the ground. Now it was all just one giant pile of rubble, an uneven lump of a silhouette. By some coincidence, I’d managed to pick the right direction to end up back on the street, and it was almost completely flooded. I was almost at the buildings on the other side, and my head had only just poked out. My body was still inside the rubble.

I so desperately wanted to collapse, but I wasn’t done yet. I just… just needed to make sure. And then I could lie down and die.

“Maybe don’t joke about that, huh?”

I continued limping my way out of the rubble (unsurprisingly, not having a body didn’t seem to factor in in any way to the pain), until it was only about knee-high. Then, I jumped up, going solid once I was above it, and managed to land without crumpling. I immediately covered my mouth with an elbow, and turned around and began to trek backwards, to where I thought the lobby of the building had been.

Where the monster had been.

Navigating the rubble was hard; without being lightened, it would have been impossible. Still, by the time I arrived, my legs were burning, the injured ankle burning red hot. It seemed to hurt more, now. I think the adrenaline was starting to wear off.

There was a glimmer of gold, half-concealed by a car-sized chunk of metal. It appeared to be completely still. A large piece of a pylon stuck directly out of the pile above it, like it had been impaled in something that was now keeping it upright.

The energy rushed out of me in an instant, leaving me feeling  drained and hollow. It was…

It had worked.

Feeling dazed, I turned around, suddenly filled with a desire to be as far away as possible. I staggered, though, leaning against a piece of rubble, that shifted underneath my weight.

Almost immediately, the debris underfoot began to shift.

“No,” I said out loud, almost emotionless, as I turned around. “No.”

The rubble was shifting, spilling to either side, as the form underneath it rose upwards. I hadn’t been wrong: the pylon had impaled Paladin. It just didn’t seem to have made a difference.

Its golden surface was dented and damaged, oozing everywhere, but it stood anyway, and didn’t seem too hindered.

It roared in my face, the tone of it different than before. It had been… angry, then. But it was anger, it was for a reason. This was insane noise, nothing but mindless fury.

I went dense, and nearly cried at how little difference it made. Barely more than my normal body.

The monster charged me. Time slowed.

I reached down, to my power. What little of it was left. Moving it around had always been like flicking a switch, one that was now currently set to ‘dense’. I grabbed the switch, found the very edge of the limits of the power, and pushed against it with all my might. Please. Please. I need to be stronger. Please, god, work.

Then it was upon me, and I swung-

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Stand 23-IX | Anniversary Week #3

The Well-Organised Mind.

The street was clear now; all the civilians and the police had retreated. It was just me and the monster. If I could bring the station down, it wouldn’t hurt anyone else.

I just had to figure out how.

The support for the platform stretched up out of a building on the right, smooth, sleek steel struts. I couldn’t see any obvious signs of weakness, but there had to be something with that amount of groaning. I couldn’t bring the building down, but if I could get up to the support beam, that I could break.

And bring it all crumbling down.

If I could get to the building, get inside, I could climb the stairs and get to the top. I just had to get past the monster.

Fake her out.

I began hobble-running on a diagonal, clutching my ribs to reduce the pain. Paladin roared and charged me, and as soon as she did I immediately switched directions, zigzagging. It shot past me like a speeding train, too quick to change direction with me, and I swung at its side as it did, but whiffed it. Didn’t matter, though, that wasn’t the point. I had a clear shot to the building’s entrance. I could hear Paladin coming to a rough stop behind me, trying to turn around, but I didn’t look back. I was moving painfully slow, but I was almost there.

The crunching of tarmac behind me told me I wasn’t going to make it. Couldn’t move in time, couldn’t dodge. I crossed my fingers and ghosted.

Smoke blasted out of my midsection in a sideways mushroom cloud, just as Paladin reached me. For a few seconds, my vision was consumed with gold and the occasional flash of red, then I was watching it crash into the lobby of the building, tearing it open with her momentum.

I walked past it as it flailed around, trying to get its footing, and found the door to the fire stairs. I went to open it, but my hand passed straight through. I felt like I should laugh.

Once I was on the other side, I went solid again and began climbing the stairs. I was less, again; I felt it for sure this time. Hopefully, that wouldn’t matter for long. I held onto the handrail with a fierce grip, as every step sent tiny tremors of pain through my ribs. One step at a time. One step at a-

A spear of pain spiked through my chest. I lurched forward, a spray of blood shooting out of my move, the copper overriding the lingering bile. I coughed, hacking and raw, summoning more blood. I was sitting on the ground, my vision hazy and my lungs burning. The lights were different, darker. There weren't any skyscrapers around, and I could see the night sky, and I knew instantly I was back in my real body.

No! It wasn't complete, it didn't feel right. I could still feel the other body, sort of, like its senses were coming to me from the other end of a tunnel. I need to get back, I need-

Another gut-wrenching cough, like my lungs were collapsing. There was enough blood this time that some remained in my mouth, and I had to weakly turn my head to the side and spit to get it out.

I can’t be here. I can’t lose this now. I focused on the other body’s senses, still hanging above the ground, concentrating for everything it was worth. I pictured where I’d been, the sounds, the lights, the smells. And, not quite knowing what I was doing, I pushed-

I slammed back into the smoke clone, the jolt of it almost enough to make me lose my grip on the rail. I hadn’t fallen, thank goodness. I resumed climbing the stairs, ignoring the shaking from below me.

“Um, what the heck?! We’re just glossing over the fact that this is now apparently doing real damage to our real body?”

That’s for later.

“Everything’s always for lat-”

I snapped back again, lungs suddenly burning. I think my nose was bleeding.

NO.

Again, I pushed, and again, I returned. I gritted my teeth and kept on moving.

“Hannah! Whatever we’re doing, it’s clearly not what this power is supposed to, and that is causing us real, physical harm. You were being reckless before, fine, whatever. It wasn’t real. This? This is real. Our real body, the only one we have, is currently hacking up blood in a back alley, while we climb a building in order to drop a freaking train station on a monster! What is going on?! A week ago, we were stressing about a history test! Now we might die.

Who else?

“What?”

Who else is going to do it?

“It’s not your responsibility! You tried hard, you saved some people, and now you can step back before you die.

I didn’t save the police officers.

“They’re police! Yes, it’s awful that they died, but they knew the risks when they signed on for the job.”

I could have saved them.

I pushed open the door and stumbled out onto the roof, nearly losing my grip on the body again. The support was directly ahead of me, shining pillars of steel, and I dragged myself over to it. I could hear Paladin below, still flailing around in the lobby. Maybe it thought I was still down there.

I stared at the beams. They were thicker than my head. I hesitated for a second, but then my mind flashed back to the officer, lying on the ground, and I swung.

It was hard. Harder than it would’ve been if I was uninjured. My fist didn’t go all the way through. Didn’t even go half. I pulled it out, tried again, and this time it was torn in two. Panting heavily, I moved onto the next one.

The groans grew louder now, higher pitched. With a metallic squeal, I tore apart the next beam. And the next. And the next. And the-

There was a deceptively quiet snap. Then, a thunderously loud boom, and the screech of metal grating on metal.

I ghosted, and let the rubble rain down from above and bury the building.

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Stand 23-VIII | Anniversary Week #2

CW: Graphic descriptions of gore.


Pity The Dead.

I ran.

Not fast, and not well, but I ran. I assumed Paladin would be coming for me, so I turned in the opposite direction of the retreating crowd and began hobbling that way.

She didn't come after me, though.

I jerked as I heard the thunderous crunching of concrete behind me, and spun awkwardly around, expecting to find the golden behemoth directly in front of me. As I did, though, I realised the sound was somewhat diminished, and then my eyes caught up with my ears and I saw that Paladin had landed directly in the middle of the police officers.

The crowd screamed and surged away, and a few of the officers did as well, but the majority of them turned their firearms on her and began firing. It was hard not to notice, though, that she had landed in a gap in the middle of the officers, forcing them to turn inwards. Why had they been-

Oh.

“There was no gap.”

I began sprinting backwards. Stupid, stupid. I’d made more distance to cover for myself.

Bullets pinged off of Paladin, causing her to cower and recoil. In a few places, sprays of blood spurted out where a piece of flesh was near the surface, but other than that, she seemed unharmed. A fact that she quickly seemed to realise, as she paused, and stopped cowering. The police kept shooting, but now, without the fear factor, it was about as effective as shooting a brick wall with paintballs.

She roared triumphantly, swiping at the closest officers with her paws. Blood splattered, but their body didn’t go anywhere; it just dropped to the ground in two halves.

I stared at the… corpse, feeling curiously numb. I wanted to vomit, but I’d done that earlier, and now it’d just be bile. Had that officer had a family? What had their life been like?

“Had they been expecting to get bisected when they clocked on this morning?”

I laughed. It wasn’t funny, but. I laughed.

Paladin swiped again, splattering a few more officers. The blood coated the gold, giving it an orange hue as the light shone through. The rest of the police began running away, splitting in different directions, but she seemed to take it almost as a challenge, and began moving, trying to hit them with her paws and wings. She couldn’t move fast while doing it, though, so she only managed to get a few more.

The moonlight reflected oddly off the blood.

Paladin roared and began lumbering after the largest group of police, but I was getting close now. I yelled, waving my arms, trying to get her attention. Wait. No sound was coming out. I tried again, and this time managed to get my throat working.

She paused, or… froze. Can she recognize me? Slowly, she turned around to face me. If she had a face anymore, I somehow knew it would be furious.

“Yeah, that’s right,” I said, the words sounding weird and distant to my own ears. “It’s me! Come and get me, you giant gold turd!” I didn’t stop running as I did it, though, and by the time she’d turned properly, I was only a few meters away. She roared in my face, the noise feeling like it was rattling my brain, and I roared right back, and hit her as hard as I could with my one good hand.

Even weakened like I was, I was still tearing through concrete like it was plasticine. So I was expecting the blow to do serious damage. I’d never intentionally hit anyone with it before, which would be something to think about later.

But.

She staggered back a few steps, and the golden light seemed to have dented slightly, but that was it.

I stared, a little dumbstruck, and she snarled and swiped me with the flat of her paw, sending me flying.

I landed next to one of the bodies that had been split in half, the blood on the ground immediately beginning to soak into my clothes. She was still alive, somehow, blood spilling out of the ragged tear below her waist. I could see inside her stomach, and a pool of liquid that had spilled onto the ground that looked like its contents. Her chest was heaving, and she seemed to be trying to say something, but couldn’t get it out. Her gaze was wide, terrified and pained. Then her chest stopped moving. The light in her eyes winked out.

I sat up slowly. Stood up. Body hurt, check. Soul hurt, check. Nothing new there.

Paladin was staring at its own bloody paw, almost curiously. Maybe it didn’t know what blood was. Maybe it didn’t know what death was.

I couldn’t really bring myself to care.

I began walking towards it again. It didn’t seem to notice, turning the dirtied paw back and forth. I hit it, in the same place as before, and this time the golden light cracked, beginning to ooze that same liquid as before.

It hit me again.

I got up again. Harder, this time. It was paying attention now, though, and charged me. I dug myself in to the ground, braced, and punched. I went flying backwards, but it was stopped in its tracks, the cracks spreading.

One of my ribs broke. My vision whited out when I tried to get up, and I found myself on the ground again, missing a few seconds of consciousness. I gritted my teeth, rolled over, and got up that way instead.

“This isn’t sustainable.”

Shut up.

“You’ll go down before she does.”

Shut up.

“We need to find another-”

Shut.

Up.
The ooze was pouring from the cracks now, evaporating before it hit the ground. As I watched, though, the flow began to slow, as the cracks began to slowly close.

No! I took a step forward, but stumbled as my rib flared with pain. I need to… oh god, it hurts so much.

“Push through it. Think. I know it’s hard, but think. Find a way to end this, without ending yourself.”

How? She’s stronger, faster. Less injured. She can apparently heal.

As if on cue, the station platform above us gave an alarming groan.

I looked up at it.

“That’ll do.”

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