Scene 167 – Culmine Tecti

CULMINE TECTI

AKANE

Flight.

We had forgotten she had access to freaking flight.

If I had remembered, I could have kept a better eye on the edge of the roof. Or, better yet, Derek wouldn’t have decided to talk up here at all. Musashi’s sword, everyone knew he liked rooftops. We definitely should have realized that meant she’d remember it too.

No time to worry about any of that now. We had two opponents: Elizabeth—wearing a blood-stained white dress not unlike the one she had the day we found her in the sewers—and the Vanir. In theory, it was a fair fight, but Derek and I still had to protect Laura.

The odds would start looking a lot better if I could kill the giant.

I sped forward just a few ticks under top speed, hoping to catch them by surprise.

But Elizabeth was faster.

She dodged around my sword like a ghost, before kicking me in the back and making me stumble dangerously close to the edge.

I heard the slight thrum of a force field, and turned to see that there was a glowing blue shield blocking Elizabeth from attacking me.

She hissed and turned to Derek. “Stop doing that!”

“Sure,” he replied calmly. “Just kill yourself, and we won’t have to fight any more.”

Elizabeth screeched in rage and rushed forward, a pair of glowing orange swords suddenly in her hands. Derek summoned a buckler shield on his arm, fending her off swiftly.

Okay, while the Composer was distracted, I could handle her Blackguard. I turned to see…

He was gone.

Great. Should have seen that coming. He was a flier; his range of movement was too broad for me to take my eyes off him and expect to still be able to keep track of him.

Think think think…would he run away? Maybe, if there were more of her minions nearby that he could go collect. He wouldn’t worry too much about leaving his boss outnumbered, since she was frustratingly immortal and everything.

But wait. She hadn’t actually given him any orders. I would have heard if she did. Combined with the slavish devotion the Blackguards had already displayed, and…

He wouldn’t go far.

I sheathed my sword and jumped over the side of the building, trusting my instincts.

They didn’t fail me. The giant was standing on the slender ledge, holding on with one hand and trying to pull out his phone with the other. Calling for reinforcements, most likely. I guess they had just gotten lucky when they found us here, rather than it being anything planned.

I didn’t even bother turning on my speed. I didn’t need it for this. I just grabbed the Vanir’s shirt and yanked, hard. He managed to keep his footing, but only barely, which had the side effect of pulling me closer to the building.

Now that I was within reach of the wall, I spun around, placed my feet against the skyscraper, and jumped off with all my might while still gripping the Blackguard’s shirt.

He yelped as he got yanked off his perch, dropping his phone in the process. That had been the point of the little stunt; him falling was just a bonus.

Of course, he could still fly. He activated his power, arresting his fall as suddenly as if he had hit the ground, and coughing up blood from the unintended strain on his system.

Merely stopping in mid-air probably wouldn’t have done that, even with the sudden inertia.

But I still had a death grip on his shirt.

Before he could toss me off, I wrapped my arms around his throat and started squeezing. I needed both hands to hold on; I couldn’t spare one to grab a knife. My sword was completely out of the question.

Even with his massive strength, my angle was too good, so we just thrashed about in mid-air for a few minutes while I crushed his windpipe. I don’t know if he wasn’t thinking straight or if he just didn’t have any combat experience, but he never did try to bash me into one of the nearby buildings.

Eventually, he grew limp, and we started to fall.

I had been prepared for this the second I jumped off the roof, and my senses hadn’t fled me in the past few minutes. I released the giant’s neck, clambered over to his front, and jumped off his chest with my speed at full blast for just a second.

Except he wasn’t quite dead yet.

He grabbed my ankle in a death grip just as I pushed off, and I yelped in surprise.

I should have had enough momentum to break free, but he was a giant, and his fingers were like steel. I felt a crack in my knee, but that wasn’t my biggest problem. The Vanir wrapped his arms around my chest from behind in a bone-crushing bear hug, and suddenly we were dropping like a stone.

It was something Robyn had explained. Her power—and this guy’s, apparently—was not actually flight. It was the ability to manipulate gravity, like what Ling could do with stone, but only for themselves. What they normally did was ‘fall’ up.

Right now, he had stacked a few gravities on himself so we were accelerating towards the ground at terminal velocity.

No sane man would do such a thing. Even if he had a slight chance to survive, it wasn’t much. Apparently, the talk about Elizabeth’s minions being suicidally loyal wasn’t quite so far-fetched as it had sounded.

As the wind rushed past my face at blistering speeds, I struggled vainly in his grip. His arms were wrapped around me like steel vises, and again, I didn’t have any of my knives in my hand. If I could only get to one of them…

This was going to be close.

I cranked my speed up to about half blast, using the extra seconds it gave me to get my knife out. The only one I could reach was one of the double-sided throwing knives Maria had gotten me, so I slashed my hand open pretty good, but it was worth it.

As I let my power go, I started cutting at the giant’s wrist, causing him to grunt in pain and squeeze harder.

I had been hoping the pain would shock him into releasing me, but I hadn’t been counting on it. The real reason I needed the knife was to cut his tendons.

And just as I predicted, the taught tendons keeping his grip tight snapped like rubber bands under my razor-sharp knife. The unexpected lack of resistance caused the giant’s arms to pop open, and I kicked away from him as quickly as I could without using my speed.

I also made a mental note to never get mad at someone for buying me a sharpening kit again.

But I wasn’t done yet. I had lost track of my position during the mid-air struggle, and it was dark enough that I had trouble seeing. I didn’t have much left in my reservoir. If I misjudged my distance from the ground—

With a blink, I realized where I was.

NOW!

I used every last ounce of power I could squeeze out of my reservoir when my feet were mere inches from the ground, landing three-point style with a knee to the asphalt and a hand out to steady myself. The road shattered into a cloud of choking, blinding dust a heartbeat later, which worked out pretty well for me. It was about twilight, so there weren’t too many people around, but enough that I didn’t want them to see my face.

I stumbled over to the dorms under the cover of the cloud, since I didn’t have enough power to jump back to the roof, cursing as I wrapped up my slashed hand.

As I entered the lobby, Emily looked up from her book with a quirked eyebrow.

“Are you okay? I heard something outside.”

“Fine,” I managed.

She shrugged and went back to reading.

I rode the elevator up, taking deep breaths to try and bring my pulse to something normal. The stairs might have been faster, but I needed a minute to rest. I’m more used to near-death experiences than I’d like, but that doesn’t mean I can just bounce back from them like nothing happened.

I got off on our floor, and ran over to my room. Thankfully, the others were still here, chatting in Derek and Adam’s room.

Robyn looked up when I ran in. “Akane? What’s wrong?”

“Elizabeth’s on the roof,” I said without preamble.

No one hesitated. Adam, Ling, and Robyn all immediately rushed past me towards the stairs, running up them at breakneck pace.

I wasn’t far behind, but I was behind. I still needed a moment.

Either way, all four of us burst onto the roof within a couple minutes, to find the situation about as we had expected. Laura was cowering behind Derek, who was protecting her with a wide, glowing blue shield on his arm. Elizabeth was grinning like the madwoman she was as she struck the shield again and again with those orange blades. When she spotted the rest of us, she giggled.

“Good! I was getting bored with these two!” She licked her lips. “Too easy!”

Wait, if it was so easy, why were they still alive?

Before I had a chance to contemplate that thought, she rushed forward.

Again, she wasn’t using her super speed here—though even without supernatural assistance, she was fast. She could only use one power at a time, and she already had her blades out. If I hadn’t tapped into my own speed for a split second, I wouldn’t have been able to dodge in time.

She brought her blades forward in a scissor motion, which I managed to avoid by a hair’s breadth. The blood-soaked girl didn’t seem angry, though. If anything, she seemed more excited than before, her perfectly white teeth shining through all the blood.

If she had a follow-up move, she never got a chance to use it. Ling placed her hands on the roof, causing the concrete to mold up and wrap around the Composer’s ankles, arresting her momentum, and her swords disappeared a moment later. Elizabeth gave our resident delinquent a death glare, and the girl suddenly went flying off the roof.

Right, she had all our powers. Ling would be fine, she could fly. In theory.

Well, apparently no one had ever bothered to tell Robyn that, because she immediately dove off the roof after my roommate, leaving Adam and myself to deal with our greatest enemy alone.

The stone manacles Ling had created slid back into the structure of the roof even as we attacked. I sliced off one of her arms and Adam shot her in the gut with his pistol, but by then our advantage was gone. Although Elizabeth shrieked in pain and rolled away with her severed limb, I knew she had won this round. How couldn’t she have? Sure, we hurt her, but she was reattaching her arm even as I watched.

Okay, no more playing nice.

I nodded to Adam, and he started to retrieve his Caedes. I don’t know if Elizabeth recognized out plan or just recognized that we had a plan, and needed to be stopped, but she summoned her swords and charged forward again, trailing orange smoke like a fiery comet.

But again, she couldn’t use her speed at the same time as her blades, so I was able to block both without undue difficulty.

She cackled and dove forward, driving me back in desperate defense. Even tapping into my speed, she was overwhelming me.

It didn’t make any sense. Using two swords at once went against every style of swordsmanship known to man. And yet here she was, bringing her blades in at impossible and unexpected angles, forcing me to improvise on the spot.

I’m usually good at improvising. Against a monster, a dumpster-dog or a leapeater or whatever, I can roll with the punches, adjust my strategy, and come out on top. How was she so consistently outclassing me?

Maybe it was just what Ling said. Elizabeth was an animal, an angry, cunning animal like the monsters I was used to fighting, but in a human body and with supernatural weapons. I just didn’t have any experience fighting something like this.

But thankfully, Adam finally managed to get his gun out.

He just pointed the SMG at Elizabeth and pulled the trigger, despite the fact that she was between the two of us. I tapped into my speed and was safely behind him before the first bullet left the chamber, but still, it was a little annoying.

She screamed, more in rage than pain, as bullets tore into her side. She let the swords fade into mist again and ran away at super speed, dodging behind the entrance to the stairwell and out of the line of fire.

There was a metallic click; I turned to see Adam in the act of reloading, the spent clip on the ground. The only problem was, it was a sound anyone in the city would recognize…

As expected, Elizabeth dodged out to take advantage.

What wasn’t expected was how she took advantage.

She reached down to the floor and scooped up a fistful of concrete, using Ling’s power to mold it as easily as mud. But when she chucked it at my head, I was sure it was once again heavy and solid stone.

I was so surprised, I didn’t even think to use my speed, which I suppose was the point. Her aim was dead-on, too. I wouldn’t easily survive a blow to the skull, and even if I did I’d be out of this fight.

The stone bullet pinged off a misty blue shield that appeared out of thin air.

Oh, right, Derek was still here.

Apparently Elizabeth had forgotten too, because she growled and rushed towards him, blades appearing out of thin air.

I interposed myself between the two, blocking a couple of her strikes with some difficulty.

The girl I grew up with grinned at me. “You can’t keep this up forever, Ken-chan,” she said mockingly in perfect Japanese.

I grit my teeth. “Maybe. But I don’t have to.”

Then Adam shot her again.

She screamed, and dodged for behind the entrance to the stairwell, but this time I knew where she was heading, and didn’t hesitate. I activated my speed, meeting her in her supposed refuge. I slashed her diagonally twice at speed, in an X-pattern, causing her to fall into four uneven pieces.

I heard a sound behind me and wheeled around, but it was only Robyn, landing back on the roof with a sour-faced Ling in her arms.

“Quick,” Laura ordered. “Scatter the pieces. It won’t stop her, but it will slow her down for a moment.”

That would be when a couple grenades dropped at my feet.

I didn’t hesitate. I cranked my speed up as high as it would go, tackling Laura—who was closest to the explosives—and dragging her behind cover. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Derek pulling Adam and Ling together and covering them in a dome shield, while Robyn flew straight up.

Then the grenades exploded.

Oh, and they were magnificent. High-yield frag grenades, sending dust and red-hot shrapnel everywhere. The smoke enveloped Derek’s shield, mixing together with the azure mist in a way that I could only describe as elegant. The clash between the gritty black and brown of the explosion, with the noble blue of the shield…

Beautiful.

This was something that could only be appreciated with super speed. The raw, unchained fury of an explosion simply passed too quickly for normal eyes to comprehend it. I had tried, most of my life, truly tried, and while I had always enjoyed watching explosives, there had always been something…I don’t want to say missing. But it felt like looking at a painting in the wrong light. I wasn’t getting the full view.

And then I got super speed, and everything fell into place.

Beautiful.

But those grenades hadn’t just come from nowhere, and Elizabeth wasn’t the one who had dropped them. Leaving aside the fact that she just wasn’t the type to use them, I would have spotted them on her during our fight.

So who could have—

I heard something. Just a small, metallic click from a few inches behind me, but it was a sound I recognized.

The sound of the safety being flipped off a gun.

I barely had time to activate my speed, burning up the last few dregs of power in my reservoir, just enough to dodge the three-millimeter round that had been aimed dead-center at my skull.

Three millimeter didn’t sound like much, and it wasn’t. Musashi’s gravestone, even if it had hit me, at that range, I still had a slight chance of surviving. It was a tiny bullet, and the gun my assailant was using didn’t have the power to give it any real penetration.

But the dinky little Hellion revolver wasn’t designed for power, or intimidation, or anything like that. It was just a cheap little disposable thing, probably cost less than fifty bucks. Perfect for someone who didn’t have much money.

Like an orphan on the run.

“Mitchel?” I turned to see Ling, still at Derek’s side, blinking at the man holding the gun on me.

The man himself was…weird. Not sibriex levels of weird, but still. He had the ruddy skin of an islander, clashing with neon green hair. Other than that, he didn’t seem to have any obvious toys.

He grinned. “Hey, Ling. Ready to go?”

She blinked again. “What are you—” she suddenly glared, and ground her teeth. “Velvet hell, get away from her.”

“Is that really any way to greet an old orphanmate?”

The ground around Ling’s feet roiled with her rage. “You mean the orphanage you burned to the ground?

The man raised a single finger, while keeping the revolver leveled at my head. “In point of fact, it was the demon triplets who burned the place down.”

Ling didn’t calm down. “But you let them in.”

He just shrugged.

She roared in fury and charged forward, arrested only by Derek bodily tackling her. Even that almost didn’t work; she was still wearing her armor, and used her power to drag both of them closer to her foe.

Mitchel just smiled sadly. “You’re being a bit silly, Ling. Come along, Nabassu will be back for us soon.”

I glanced over at where the grenades had been dropped. Just as I suspected, Elizabeth’s remains were gone. Damn. One of her minions must have grabbed her while we weren’t paying attention.

Ling had finally given up struggling with Derek—likely because her reservoir had run dry—and glared up at her erstwhile friend from the floor. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

He just smiled, like he was dealing with a silly child. “Yes, you are.”

“No, she’s not,” I insisted, standing up.

“Oh, I had almost forgotten about you!” Mitchel said with a laugh. He turned the gun back to me.

Then his hand fell off, sliced cleanly at the wrist.

While Ling had kept him distracted, my own reservoir had replenished.

He stared dumbly at the stump for a second, before his beating heart started pumping blood from the wound.

“Oh God,” he whispered in horror. “Oh God oh God oh God—”

“Peace,” a calm cultured voice said, accompanied by Elizabeth’s demon butler from the Ring dropping down from the sky. “We have a healer. You’ll be fine.”

Mitchel didn’t look fine. His face was rapidly losing color, and I suspected the only reason he wasn’t screaming his lungs out was because he was still in shock.

“Wait right there,” Derek insisted firmly. “You’re not going anywhere. Akane.”

I nodded, taking the word for the order it was, and readied my sword and my power if he tried anything funny.

The demon, looking distinctly out of place in his sharp suit on the dirty rooftop, bowed formally.

“Apologies, Honored Paladins, but I will not be able to stay and chat.” He stepped forward, hooked his arms around Mitchel’s chest from behind, and brought out his leathery wings in a puff of smoke. “We must be off.”

Derek grinned. “You think you can fly faster than Akane can jump?”

“I don’t need to,” the demon said calmly.

And smoke exploded everywhere.

“Gas grenade!” Derek cried. “Akane, grab them!”

I rushed to the spot the pair of Blackguards had been when the smoke appeared, but to no avail. By the time the smoke cleared a few moments later, they were long gone.

Something didn’t make sense. I had used super speed. What was Mitchel’s power, that he could disappear both of them so quickly? Some form of teleportation? We hadn’t seen that yet, but it was a possibility. But if that was the case, then why had he needed the demon at all?

As Robyn landed back on the roof—after any chance of her getting involved in a fight was gone, I noted—I turned to her with a frown. “See where they went?”

She shook her head. “They were only out of view for a second or two before the wind shifted, but I still lost them.”

Laura sighed. “And we’re back to square one. Great.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 167)

The gun Mitchel uses here is a Hellion 87-609 Six, for the record. It’s designed as a holdout gun, a tiny little last-ditch defense when you’ve been captured and all your bigger guns taken.

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