Scene 13 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
“Shit,” I swore as the announcement came to me through Simone’s magical earpiece. I hadn’t had a choice there – Sequoia was necessary to get the flag. He had sworn up and down that he could get away from Starling without help, and I had let him try, but the arrival of Canaveral had made it impossible. Still, he hadn’t called for Simone – I had had to send her in at the last second, and had lost her for it. Things would get a lot more difficult from here out, without her to move us all around.
It would be tricky for me to get off the building, for one thing.
I decided to figure that out later, and instead did some quick thinking. “Sequoia: turn back,” I ordered. “Assist Quinn against Starling. He won’t be expecting you to rejoin the battle, and Canaveral won’t be able to get back to you two for at least a minute. Take him out before he can. Newton: Sequoia is coming to help you. Maneuver Starling so that the two of you will be flanking him, if you can.”
I nervously watched as Sequoia moved back to the pitched battle. As I had asked, Quinn managed to shift their fight such that Sequoia came from behind – not so that Starling would be surprised, as he had omnidirectional sight and his hearing was far too good to sneak up on him anyway – but so that it would be harder to respond to attacks on both fronts.
Fortunately, it seemed to be working. Between blows that he had to dodge or be knocked out at once on one side, and death-of-a-thousand-cuts on the other, Starling wasn’t doing terribly well. By the time Canaveral had pinned down his location and started moving back towards the battle, Starling had been taken out.
I breathed out for the first time in what felt like a while. Losing Simone was more of a blow to the Journeymen than losing Starling was to the New Champions – the benefits of having a teleporter couldn’t be overstated – but it was still a good feeling to strike back.
“Broadcast: here’s an update for you all,” I said, moving to the edge of the building and seeing that there was a fire escape. As I began descending, I told the team, “The enemy’s flag has been located, but it’s iced over so that only Sequoia can break through to it, and Vulcan is guarding it. Out best bet is to either gang up on him – which requires taking out the rest of the Champions first so we don’t get flanked – or draw him away – which is risky, to say the least. Headcount-wise, they’ve lost Starling, but we’ve lost Journey.”
“Not great odds,” Hypnos observed. “What can I do?”
“No, not really,” I agreed. “Your new trick might end up getting used after all, but first I want to thin the herd a little more, if we can.” I took a moment to check on Canaveral’s position, then said, “Newton: you couldn’t do much against Anima, correct?”
“No, not really. With her aura up she was too fast for me, and then she made a golem and I was outnumbered.”
“I understand. You couldn’t risk a hit, and fighting on two fronts isn’t easy.” Hell, we had just used that same trick against Starling. But… it didn’t work well against someone who could just ignore one of the sides. “I want you to draw Canaveral away from Anima, then – to your left, right now,” I told Quinn. “He should be in your sight in about fifteen seconds.”
“Already in the radius of my presence,” they confirmed.
“Don’t fight him if you can help it, just keep him chasing you.” I watched on one of my screens as they nodded, then bounced into action. One paintbrush shot towards Canaveral, attracting his attention, then returned to Quinn as they ran, and Canaveral pursued – away from Anima. Good.
“Sequoia:” I continued, “Anima is two blocks behind you and three to your right. Your left, now,” I added as he turned around. “Take her out. I’m coming down the building and will be near you to assist if I can.” I wouldn’t be able to use a shockwave against Anima herself, but I could easily destroy any golems she animated from the terrain in this artificial city – between that and Sequoia’s own durability, her golems should be neutralized. I would have to get closer to do it, though.
“What about me?” Hypnos asked.
I glanced at his position – his invisibility hadn’t broken yet, which was a good sign, and I suspected that the Champions had forgotten him entirely. It was easy to overlook the poor guy given his 0-ranked powers, although I had a feeling that that would be changing after his new trick was revealed. “Start moving towards the flag,” I decided. “It’s… five blocks to your left and one ahead of you. Don’t engage yet, but I want you nearby it.”
Scene 14 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
I arrived back where Sequoia, Newton, and Starling had been and saw with some annoyance that Starling seemed to have been taken out. It must have been a good minute or so ago, too, for me to have been too far to have heard the announcement. Sequoia and Newton were both gone as well.
“Broadcast: status update,” I grumbled. “Starling looks to have been taken out. Sequoia and Newton’s locations are unknown.”
“Should I join the hunt?” Vulcan asked.
“No, stay with the flag. With Sequoia still out there, we can’t leave it unguarded. If we take him out, on the other hand…”
“What about me?” said Anima. “I’ll note that I’m running a bit low on energy – I had to burn it pretty quickly to keep up with Newton. Kid’s fast.”
“Stick with what you’re doing,” I ordered her. “I’ll come to join you so they can’t gang up on us like they must have-”
I was interrupted by a light blue bat shooting unerringly at me, unguided by any hand, and I twisted the energy within myself to skid out of the way. It spun in midair and followed, and I dodged again.
This time, it pulled away, returning to the hand of the newest member of the Journeymen. Quinn gave me a cheerful wave, and I bounced after them.
“Anima: Change of plans,” I said. “I’ve found Newton and am in pursuit. Follow as fast as you or a golem can.”
“Can’t,” she grunted. “Sequoia just showed up. I’m going to be bit preoccupied.”
“…noted.” I didn’t want to lose Quinn, so I continued pursuing them at slightly under my top speed, not wanting to catch up until I had deciphered what their plan was.
They didn’t seem to be that interested in actually evading me, as when I began to fall behind they would pause, standing or lying on the side of a building and taunting me. If I slowed to much, they sent a dagger at me to spur me on. Definitely interested in the chase, here… but why?
My first thought was that they were having fun. They had bounced back from their father’s death remarkably quickly, it seemed, and judging from the joy they had had on that first night of trying their powers, they could well be the type to mug like this. If not, they were doing a remarkably good impression of it – they were doing what I suspected to be a not-very-flattering impersonation of me at this moment.
Or perhaps they hadn’t bounced back all that fast after all. Perhaps they were simply throwing themself into heroism, and this game, to keep them from remembering their loss. That might also lead them to spur me into a chase without actually trying to escape – to keep in motion, because of the grief that could catch up if they slowed down, much as I was catching up in the chase.
But far more likely than either of those, I realized, was that Holly had told them to keep me occupied. They were no doubt leading me far from Anima, keeping me from giving her backup against Jack – who in normal circumstances wouldn’t be able to take her any more than any other melee fighter could, as a single touch would let her safely drain him into unconsciousness. In this match, however, that draining power wasn’t allowed – all our powers were banned from direct use on other players – and he would have a far better chance. By Anima’s word, Holly couldn’t keep all five of the Journeymen manually connected and also lead – but could he do it with just four? Or even three, cutting off Nic – who still had yet to make an appearance – in favor of providing better leadership to the rest of the team?
As though spurred by this unpleasant thought, my earpiece crackled to life and Anima, her voice strained, said, “Having a bit of trouble with Sequoia. I’m low on energy and I think Loki is nearby – my golems are shattering as fast as I create them.”
“Shit,” I swore. If Holly was breaking golems – with shockwaves, no doubt – then he had surely cut Nic out, and had probably been directing the battle the entire time. I had let myself be complacent, thinking that the Journeymen were acting without an overarching plan, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I skidded to a halt at the edge of the rooftop I was approaching instead of leaping, and with a twist I reversed my momentum. I didn’t know if I could get back to Anima in time, but…
I ducked instinctively, and another one of Quinn’s daggers flew over my head. My duck turned into a roll and I spun around again to see that they had leapt at me, probably seeing an opening in my sudden flight. I barreled towards them at high speed. This had gone on too long already.
They reversed course midair, jerking backwards as I approached and fell off the side of the building. My heart stopped for a moment before remembering that they could walk on walls with their power – hell, they had been taking brief pauses there for the entire chase! If I took the bait and looked over the edge, they would strike.
Instead, I knelt and put my hand to the roof I stood on. One of my lesser known tricks was that I could send a sort of pulse through objects, and use that to map them out to an extent. It took longer than was useful in combat – at least, it did if I wanted to avoid damaging the object, as a faster, more energetic pulse could do – but it was perfect in a situation like this.
The pulse returned to me, and my suspicion was confirmed. Quinn was lying on the side of the building, both daggers floating in midair virtue of their power and ready to strike any whatever came over the edge. Fortunately their perception power couldn’t see through solids, so they wouldn’t be certain where I was or what I was doing.
Instead of leaning out, I leapt – massive kinetic force sending me past them before they could react, then twisted with my power to spin myself around to view them and slow me. As their daggers shot towards me, I launched my own heavier bat towards them, and…
“Newton has been taken out by Canaveral and is disqualified,” declared Sam.
Two down, now, and Quinn sighed in disappointment as they began making their way out of the artificial city. But, as I had just realized, Holly’s ability to contribute increased with each of the Journeymen that were removed.
Holly was far from unstoppable, but… he added a lot of complications to a game like this. Already, their flag was undoubtedly beyond reach. If he decided to go for stealth, then we, having already lost Starling, didn’t have a great chance of finding her. Him. Anima, Vulcan, and I all had some way of expanding our senses, whether through my kinetic echolocation or by sensing heat or life, but… Vulcan couldn’t hunt until we caught Sequoia, and my trick was strictly short-ranged. And while his chances of taking the rest of us out weren’t great, particularly given his historically poor aim with any sort of gun, he did have what was arguably the best weapon in this entire game. So…
“Anima:” I began, intending to ask her to target Holly before he came to the same conclusion I had, but I was interrupted.
“Can’t… really… talk…” Anima hissed.
“Fucking…” How had I forgotten that she was outnumbered? I spun on my heel again and raced in her direction.
“Keep talking until I get there,” I ordered her. If I couldn’t get to her in time, I could at least know exactly when they were tagged.
“What… do you want… a bedtime-story?”
I snorted. “One more chapter, mom?”
“Fine… you little… brat…” she said with a faint chuckle. “Once… upon a time… I was outnumbered… and surrounded…”
“By two people?”
“By two people… who could be anywhere.” It sounded like Holly was making full use of his increasing capacity for magic. He must have duplicated himself, or at least Jack, so that Anima didn’t know where their attacks were coming from. “And they… got far too close… for comfort… far… too…”
She stopped. “Damn it,” I swore, slowing a bit. She had been hit, I was certain, and was therefore no longer allowed to communicate. I was too late.
Scene 15 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
“God,” I wheezed, emerging from invisibility to give Sequoia a high five. “Finally.” Anima had taken a long time to go down, even with me breaking her golems. She had animated their shards to harry me whenever she caught a glimpse of my location, used the inimitable light of her aura to spot my illusions – which wouldn’t reflect its light properly – and held Sequoia off the entire time. After several minutes he had managed to get a lucky blow and coat the woman in green paint, knocking her to the ground as he did so, but only after several blows from her that had, I suspected, nearly taken him out. He was still in the game, but I doubted he could take another hit even from a dagger-sized bat.
Anima pulled out her earpiece. “Finally… is right…” she said, clearly still trying to catch her own breath. “I thought that would never end.”
“Well, you didn’t exactly make it easy on us,” I pointed out, still breathing hard myself.
“Of course not.” She held up a hand and sparked a bit of aura, wincing as she did. “I probably shouldn’t have gone quite so hard, though. I burned through all the stored power I had, and was starting to use up my own reserves at the end there. Not terribly healthy for me.”
“Take some of mine,” Sequoia offered, extending a hand to help Anima up at the same time. He, of course, was as fresh as a daisy. In his dryad form, he was tireless, having a nearly endless store of energy – it would take a huge drain for him to feel it.
Anima accepted gratefully, pulling herself to her feet and drawing zoetic energy from him at the same time. “By the way,” she asked me, “how were you multitasking like that?”
“What do you mean?” I said, deciding to play dumb a bit. Loki was the god of mischief, after all – even though it wasn’t entirely natural for me, I had to be at least a bit of a prankster. Apollon would bug abut it me if I didn’t.
“You’ve been directing the other Journeymen this whole time,” she said confidently, “but I know you’re not good enough to be keeping five people connected manually and have the mental space to handle tactics as well.”
“Not manually, no,” I agreed. She had been knocked out of the game, at this point, she couldn’t tell Canaveral, so… “but I wasn’t doing it manually.” I gestured at my ear and made an illusion of an earpiece appear. “I’ve been working on a spell to replace earpieces for two years – these can’t be hacked. I cracked it maybe… six months ago? …and have even added some improvements!”
Her eyes lit up with interest. “So you were able to do tactics and keep the lines of communication open with the rest of your team!”
“Yup! And Starling couldn’t hack into them. You might be able to, now that you know about them,” I admitted, “but…”
“But it wouldn’t be easy, with how far from zoetic your tricks are, and we didn’t even have a chance of knowing about it.” Anima chuckled. “Very well done, Loki! You’ll be sharing them with us from now on, I hope?”
“Of course. They don’t offer many advantages if you’re not facing a tech villain – not yet, anyway – but if you are…”
“Motael hacks into our comms networks almost every time we fight him,” she agreed. “Jokes on him, next time.”
“Exactly. Now shoo, I have plotting to do!”
“What’s next?” Sequoia asked.
“Broadcast:” I said, making sure that Hypnos could hear us as well. “We’ve taken down Anima, which means that it’s the three of us against Vulcan and Canaveral.”
“The two strongest fighters on the New Champions,” Hypnos commented grimly.
“Yeah. Which is why we’re not going to fight them.”
“Not exactly.” I tapped Sequoia on the shoulder and he faded from visibility. “Hypnos, are you somewhere hidden?”
“I’m about to cancel your invisibility.” I did so with a swipe of one hand. I could keep a lot of spells going at once – they were far easier than manual control – but I would need all the concentration I had for what came next.
“Sequoia, I want you to head over to the flag,” I told him, using my map to point it out to him. “Hypnos, I’m going to draw Vulcan out, then I need you to distract him. Use your new trick.”
“How are you gonna do that?” Sequoia asked.
Instead of answering, I concentrated on the map, zooming in until I could see the details of Vulcan leaning against the frozen-over flagpole. My powers had excellent range, allowing me to create spells like the map, but manual detail work got harder the farther from me I was working. I had to be very careful here…
I magically spoke into Vulcan’s ear – the same one he wore his earpiece in – in as near an imitation of Canaveral’s voice as I could. “I’ve taken out Newton, and Anima and Sequoia took each other out,” I lied. “Hypnos and Loki are the only ones left. They’ve got no chance of getting through your ice, so I want you to come out and help me hunt them down.”
“Are you sure?” Vulcan asked – I swiped the soundwaves away before they could enter the earpiece, bringing them to me instead.
“I’m sure,” I repeated. “The flag is safe, all we need is to mop up the last stragglers. I think I’ve got a bead on Loki’s real position – although who knows with her – so focus on Hypnos.”
“Him,” Vulcan corrected, standing up from his leaning position and stretching. “He’s Loki right now, he’s a him.”
I couldn’t help but smile, hearing the man correct Canaveral even without me around to hear – as far as he knew, anyway. Canaveral still had trouble keeping my pronouns straight, so I had thrown a mistake in, but I hadn’t expect Vulcan to bother protesting. He had never been all that close to me when he was on the Journeymen, after all. “Right, him. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me…” It sounded like a familiar refrain, too.
“Broadcast:” I said, cutting off the communication with Vulcan and reopening it with my team. “He’s heading out now, Hypnos. Try and catch him in a minute or two and lead him as far from the flag as you can.”
“I’ll do my best,” he swore.
“I know you will. Sequoia,” I said to the wooden man, “I know stealth doesn’t come naturally to you-”
“Hey!” he protested, and I smirked.
“-but try to be as silent as you can. It’s on you to win this.”
“What about you?” he asked. “You’re taking on Canaveral?”
I glanced at the map one more time, eying where Canaveral was – he was pacing thoughtfully, but before long he would come to a new strategy. I had to act and distract him before he contacted Vulcan for real. “Yeah,” I confirmed. “I’m taking on Canaveral.”