- June 11, 2023
The Wolf Pack (Chapter 25)
No more superpowers for the rest of the day, no more trials, no more costumes, just family and a picnic. No more watching the Hood piss away everyone’s reputation, no more waiting hand on foot for S.I.L.A.S. to call me when there’s trouble. While yes, last time the Director called me I ignored it and got jumped, but this time Susan said they would only call if I was about to get jumped.
Which means that a nice family picnic in the park should go just swell.
“Tomas,” I hear my mother whisper to me. I was supposed to be helping everyone get the cooler and games out of the truck. I was daydreaming, though there are worse places to do it than the park in Adds Circle.
“Tomas,” she growls. Maybe when my mama is calling is a bad time to daydream.
“Sorry, Mama,” I tell her. I snap out of my trance, standing next to the car, a box with a blanket, football, and whatnot in my hands.
She drops what she’s doing in the front seat and moves behind the door, pointing behind me to the trunk. Sofia is there trying to get the cooler, but without it tipping over. Mama berates me in Spanish, “<While your Papa starts the grill and you need your sports crap, you left her to get the cooler.>”
I can see the mistake.
Before I can even correct it, Mama pats me on the butt, which is about the nicest way she can shove me.
I come up on the end of the truck stumbling around the corner and get a strange look from Sofia. She looks at me like I’m a bumbling idiot and I’m not that far off at the moment. I see her with the cooler halfway off the truck, and her one arm trying to hold it from the middle.
She stops and holds it up to squint her eyes at me. She knows exactly why I’m here, because she has one arm. I’m not so stupid to think that if I offer her help out of pity she won’t feel bad, and I know if I let her try and lift it to the ground and she drops it, food wasted or not, she’ll definitely feel bad. I can’t treat her as if anything changed, at least on the inside. Can’t exactly act like she has two arms now either.
Treating her like normal though, means being a dick as older brothers should be. Okay, I’m not older, but I’m bigger.
She’s already yelling at me, “Tommy, <what are you doing?!>”
I hadn’t even grabbed it yet, and she was already grilling me.
I make sure to smile as I take it in both arms, and lift it over my head. It’s heavy, being a decent sized cooler, but it’s not like I need super strength to lift it. I smile and tell her, “I don’t want you stealing my soda.”
“<That doesn’t even make sense!>” she yells at me as I walk away with the cooler, and she hits me on my back as I walk away from her. It’s not really a hit more like she just bangs it against me. “I don’t even like soda!”
I bring it towards Papa on the grill we brought, and to make her angry I tell her some bullshit. “<Then why does it keep disappearing from the fridge?>”
Her hand contorts as she considers strangling me. “You live in a house with three other people besides me!”
I place the cooler next to Papa, who opens it to take out the burger patties and hot dogs, rolling his eyes away from Sofia as ours meet. As he ignores the two children next to him, Sofia forces him to listen by complaining, “Papa, Tommy won’t let me help with anything.”
“<Well,>” Papa starts with a roll of his hands, a sign that he’s not going to ridicule me, and a signal that she needs to scowl at him to speak up.
“Hey, hey,” he says as he reaches out to pat her shoulder, hesitating for a moment being that he reaches for the armless one, and follows through so she can’t act like she didn’t notice. He rubs her shoulder as he tells her, “It’s not his fault that we need the cooler before next week.”
She slaps him on the shoulder after that dig, and he laughs as she groans, “Aaagh! Mama!”
Jonas finishes laying out one of the blankets on the grass as Sofia walks past him, and as usual he comments to her, “Maybe if your body moved as fast as your lips, they wouldn’t make fun of you.”
Papa covers his mouth to keep from laughing but I just let it out, especially when her eyes flare like a demon chupacabra and she kicks him on the arm. Jonas wastes no time before screaming, “Mami, <Sofia hit me!>”
“Sofia!” Mama yells at her as she lifts up the box I had.
Sofia defends herself, pointing at us and ratting us out, “They’re all making fun of me!”
“That’s nothing new!” I call out as I’m laughing, but then Mama shoots me the stink-eye and I stiffen straight along with Papa. “<Sorry,> Sofe.”
Sofia purses her lips to make a face at me, then at Jonas as he sticks his tongue out at her, giving Mama ample time to smack the back of her head.
“Hah!” Sofia gasps as her hand goes to the back of her head, acting like Mama just shot her. “<Why’d you hit me?!>”
“<Because you’re acting like a> child!” Mama snaps back as she moves towards Papa and me, in time to slap us both on the arm. Pretty sure she was aiming for my head, but it helps to be the tallest one here.
I take it, trying not to laugh but Papa complains, “<Hey,> I’m not a child.”
“Huh,” Mama huffs as she places the box down and puts her hand on her hip, “I didn’t notice, feels like I have four kids.”
I take notice of the fact that Jonas received no punishment and he had the best zing. “How come you didn’t hit him?!” I question Mama, to which he responds with a smile and a shake of his head.
Mama slaps my hands down, taking a moment to remind me, “Because of all of you, he’s the only one who is a child.”
Well, at least she considers me an adult, I guess that’s a plus. Wait, no, that’s terrible.
Jonas shakes his head back and forth, taunting Sofia and me by saying, “Told you I’m the favorite.”
Papa laughs and goes back to the grill, while Mama wags her finger at him and tells him, “<Keep talking,> you’ll get one too!”
Jonas jaw drops, giving Sofia the chance to point and laugh at him. With a fast nod of his head he claims, “That’s child abuse!”
“When I was your age, <it was called discipline!>”
“Yeah, in the 40s!” Papa loses it and Sofia gasps. I look at Mama with her mouth hanging open as she shakes her head.
Sofia tells Jonas, “Better run, you’re gonna get it now.”
Mama starts walking towards him and Jonas’s eyes start getting big. Mama raises her hands and wiggles it at him, and he knows what’s coming. He turns around and screams, “<No, don’t tickle me!>”
He starts running as Mama chases after him even though she’s wearing a dress. She tells him, “<It’ll teach you some manners!>”
“It’ll teach me that I need therapy!” and then they’re off, running through the grass on the park grounds as the rest of us watch and laugh.
TUT! TUT! TUT! TUT! TUT! TUT! TUT!
Helicopters aren’t something I hear every day. Papa and I look up above the sky as the wind blows down on us. He holds the grill and I turn for the cooler. I forget about the blanket but Sofia stands on it.
Immediately, people all throughout the park squeal and complain, I look up expecting to see news or emergency helicopters that should be reprimanded for flying so low, but I get surprised instead.
“Papa,” I ask, looking to my side to see him looking up at the sky too, “are helicopters with missile launchers allowed to fly through the city?”
“Tomas, I don’t even know where an army base is in this state.”
More importantly, they give me a bad feeling, but they didn’t stop or come after me, they just flew over everybody. If they were going to shoot anyone why would they fly over a densely populated area like Adds Circle? If something were wrong, someone from S.I.L.A.S. would call me.
What I didn’t notice as I was looking at the sky, was Sofia moving to my side. She hits me in the arm, and I look at her face to see that she isn’t laughing much.
I bring my hands to her shoulders, and she doesn’t slap them away and looks at me like I’m weird, so I’m not reading this wrong. We take a few steps from Papa where she can talk to me honestly. I just tilt my head and wait, she’ll tell me.
Sofia brings her hand and moves it to the stump at the bicep, right on the edge of what’s missing and what’s still there. “I can still do stuff, you know,” she mutters, looking away from me.
“I mean, could you really before?” I try to joke. She squints up at me, not going for it, so I apologize, “I’m sorry, I’m only joking.”
“<I know, I know,> I appreciate that,” she assures me, still rubbing her arm, “but that doesn’t change that you treat me differently by trying to treat me the same. I can tell when you’re pretending and when you’re not.”
I envelop her in my arms, holding her close. We all try to pretend that nothing has changed when someone we care about gets hurt. Some people want to be treated with care, but those who don’t can never really be treated the same. Things change, we have to figure out how we change with it.
I tell her again, “I’m sorry,” even though I’m sure she knows.
Sofia breaks away from me, having felt my phone. Now she’s annoyed but for me instead of at me.
I take out the phone to see the caller ID for the Director, and Sofia complains, “<I thought they said they would leave you alone today, don’t they know you can’t fight people every minute of every damn day?>”
I’m reading the caller ID and I don’t feel so annoyed like her, because I distinctly remember what Susan said. “They’re only supposed to call me if something’s really wrong.”
It’s gotta be something to do with those helicopters.
Sofia looks up and, in her eyes, I see her annoyance change to concern. I swipe on the screen of my phone and bring it to my ear to answer the Director.
“Aaah, fuck!” I scream as a bullet goes through my phone and grazes my hand. It’s cut open, but it’ll heal, just really stings though.
People around us all freak out, with Papa losing his grip on the spatula as he freaks out. I look around as I move in front of Sofia, seeing Mama now running and shielding a freaked-out Jonas on the ground. She has him, Papa is right next to me and so is Sofia. I know where everyone is, but not the shooter.
I hear the crumpling of grass in front of me, and it takes a few moments for me to notice the figure walking from under the tree, a smoking gun appearing first.
“No way,” I mutter, watching a dead woman walking step out from under the shade. “You should be dead, the Hood said he killed you!”
Hundress holsters her gun on the side of her waist, wearing all black padded gear made for a fight. With those same empty eyes that killed Uub without a second thought, she informs me, “He thought the same thing until I stabbed him with his own knife.”
“You, you what?” I gasp, I don’t believe what I’m hearing.
Hundress narrows her eyes at me as she inches towards us. “I stabbed him, right in the chest,” she repeats, no remorse, no pride even, just stating facts, “right after I captured Espada.”
Emily, they got to her too, they took down our big gun. No one should be able to take down Espada, not even the Savaage, especially not Hundress, but somehow she did and took the Hood down too. She did all this and somehow escaped death.
Or she’s lying to fuck with me.
I hear it before I feel it, holes burning in my hoodie, smoke coming from me. My powers, they’re igniting on their own. No, they’re igniting because I’m shaking. This woman has killed an immortal in front of me, and taken down my teammates, my friends, and my betters.
“If you surrender,” Hundress offers with a come-hither gesture of her hand, “I won’t have to beat you in front of your family, Espada didn’t get that offer.”
I look behind me, I see Papa holding Sofia in his arms, shaking as it happens again. She’s being attacked by superhumans because her brother is Pyre… again.
There’s no way I can allow not only my sister but now my whole family to be terrorized by my double life.
I tear off my hoodie with my super suit still underneath. My hands light on fire, and there’s a flash of blue. It stays right at the surface of my skin, because I can’t help but feel angry.
“You,” is all I manage to say, “should leave, before you get burned.”
Hundress warns me in response, “You’re a child, more so than the others, it’s expected of you to make stupid decisions.”
She’s one lunge from me, and based on what the Hood said of her strength and speed, she might as well be an arm’s length away, I can’t hesitate, I have to be ready.
I think it’s possible to be ready, at least until she informs me, “I’m going to count down, and if you’re not powered down by then, I’m going to beat you until you’re black and blue, I’m going to beat you in front of your father, your sister, your brother, and your mother, and they won’t be able to do anything but watch.”
As she threatens me, I have to wonder if she’s realized how that doesn’t help me calm down, that makes it worse, more difficult. The fire only grows a thicker shade of blue, fire hotter than the normal red and yellow.
“I beat Espada, and you’re a twig next to her,” Hundress reminds me, and she’s not wrong. Emily is invulnerable, she can hold planes over her head and she can punch people into outer space if she wanted to, and Hundress beat her. I think about this, and I feel the heat die down.
“I beat the Hood,” Hundress adds to bring more weight down upon my head. “The Hood will do anything to win, including kill, and he still ended up with metal in his gut,” and she unholsters her gun, “do you want lead in yours?”
“One,” she counts first. She doesn’t immediately jump to two, she’s counting at her own pace.
“Two.” That’s when I look at my arms and I try to power down, I try to dull the flames, and Hundress sees this. She sees my first reaction.
What’s wrong with me? She starts counting and all my rage turns to cowardice. It’s logical sure, the odds of winning, the odds of beating this woman are slim, but I didn’t even think about it. Flight is my go-to response, not fight.
I thought I was brave.
Hundress at least, waits before pointing her last finger down. She waits as she sees my flames lessen in intensity. She always knew exactly what she was doing to me.
When I’ve lessened the flames to only my hands, what feels like minutes is seconds, and I’m about to submit for surrender. I have to surrender for my family, I can’t risk their safety. That’s not a sacrifice for me to make.
I put my fire out, and Hundress doesn’t bother lowering her last finger, she lowers her hand. She compliments me, but with her droning voice it doesn’t feel like one.
“That was a good choice, a smarter choice than what others would have made,” and with a gesture of her hand I think she’s commanding me, but no, I hear the helicopters coming back.
They fly in like the wind, the propellers looking to blow down the trees with their strength, and the rappel comes down. “Let’s go,” she orders me.
The second Hundress turns her back, I don’t get to take a step before I hear Sofia call my name. “Tommy!” I turn my head but I’m embraced before I’ve turned all the way. My sister has her one arm wrapped around me, holding me still, her head buried into my side.
I’m shocked to say the least, I mean doesn’t she get that I have to do this for her? To protect her from being hurt and afraid because of me. “Sofia, let me go-!”
“No!” she screams at me, “No, you can’t just go with her!”
For a supervillain, Hundress has a lot of patience, enough to say, “We don’t have time for this,” without sounding entitled. She sounds like a robot instead when she orders, “Get on the helicopter while I’m still allowing you the choice.”
Sofia screams at Hundress, “Fuck you!” She begs to me, begs, that I, “Fight! That’s your job, that’s what you do, you don’t just give up!”
“I have too!” I yell back at her, “Don’t you get what happens if I don’t?! It’s your life!”
“Then fight for it,” my sister tells me, “fight for my life, our lives, the others didn’t give up so easily, so neither can you!” She brings her hand to my face as Papa comes up behind her. She slaps his hand away as she brings hers to my face, begging me, “Don’t go, Tommy, don’t go,” even as Papa pulls her away from me.
I’m watching my Papa pull her away as she cries out for me not go. Why? What difference does she think it will make? How am I supposed to beat someone my stronger friends couldn’t? I mean, I have to win or give in, or else they’re not safe.
That’s, the sound of the gun’s hammer being readied. I turn my head and Hundress isn’t patient at all, I was so wrong, as always. She’s aiming her gun but I thought she wanted me captured, she wasn’t going to hurt my family.
She lets the hammer fall into place and aims, not for me but towards Sofia and my father. Her explanation, if it can be called one, is, “I’m sick of people wasting my time.”
I see her finger move and its instinct.
I take the bullet, right into my arm. I haven’t been shot before I’ve been lucky with that. I’ve had my legs crushed by a giant, but this went through me, and for a moment I worry it will be so much worse.
Sofia screeches behind me, Papa yelling, and I hear a ding. I look behind me as I lean over from the pain in my arm. Blood soaks my left hand as I try to hold my other arm together, and see that neither one of them were hit.
The moment they’ve realized they haven’t been hurt, they realize I have. I see Sofia’s jaw unhinge and I think she’s going to be worried, but wrong again. She points behind me, warning me as she calls my name.
I turn my head only for it to be smashed.
I hit the ground head first, tearing up dirt as I roll down the small hill. Hundress hits like a freight truck, like Emily when she first got her powers. I feel the blood spilling out too until I stop rolling and I’m on my back.
The blood pools into the back of my throat, and I lean on my side to cough as it clogs. Hands are on me, pulling me up. Soft hands with fake fingernails, Mama. She coaxes me to my hands and knees, helping me get ready to look up.
Hundress is walking towards me, a terminator coming for me, and Mama is too close.
I try to shove her, but pain shoots up my arm. It’s nearly paralyzing.
I take my other hand, light it on fire and close it on the wound.
It doesn’t cauterize. Tommy, your fireproof, you idiot.
I take my good hand and shove her away, I yell at her, “Go!” with blood spitting from my mouth. Blood gets on her face, and it freezes her.
Having her child’s blood hit her face freezes her, so I have to light on fire, completely, and shock her into fall back. I yelling at her again, “Go! Get away now!”
In her eyes I see my own reflection, I see a sight that must surely scare her as it would anyone, but it’s worth it. The sight gets her moving.
Hundress walks up to me, talking to me at the same time. “If it were anyone else here right now, Pyre, I think they would have enjoyed seeing another one of you on your knees, bleeding.” I push myself up from the ground to throw a fireball at her, the pain in my arm making it hard to concentrate.
My aim was still good though. It heads right for her, but she swats it away and grabs me by the neck.
I’m choking on her hand, feeling it’s cold and harsh grip as she lifts me to my feet and then high above her. “If only I could appreciate it, but to me you’re not even worth the time, maybe Icicle will thrill me where the rest haven’t.”
Plume, is what it sounds like when the fire ignites.
For everyone else it must be really loud, but for me, it’s this quiet, deafening hum.
“RAAHH!” when I breath it in her face.
I release the fire I’ve been holding inside to ruin that pretty, overhyped face of hers and set the evil witch on fire. I know it hurts her, I know it burns, and I know she’d wish it to stop but she keeps pushing me by threatening my family, and now my friends.
She lets me go, she turns away and tries to protect herself, but I’m not finish. I engulf her in fire.
I fly above her. I breath fire and then I add my hands to cover her in an inferno. I don’t care what kind of superhuman she is, but she burns like everyone else.
She attacked me and my family, even after I surrendered, I- I’ve never been filled with so much rage. I feel like I could actually kill her.
Only God is supposed to take life, that’s what I’ve been taught, told, preached to, only He can decide who gets what they deserve, and decides how.
Today, he’ll have to an exception, just one-
“That was, surprisingly vicious,” I hear a voice speak from the fire, a voice that sounds like Hundress, but yet, not completely, even more inhuman. Through the flames, I see what shouldn’t be, I see a black shape in the form of a person pulling themselves up from the fire. I see a woman, standing on her feet, craning her back up straight, like an undead nightmare.
All I see is my fire reaching to the sky past the trees, as the grass smolders around it and the black figure inside. Hundress, somehow, someway, is still alive, not crying out in pain or misery, like anyone would when they burn.
Hundress steps out completely from the flames, her gear burned away, revealing what lies under her skin, a silver lining.
Her face is marred, only half of it remaining, and the other half, metal. A metal skull, with only some muscle tissue over and in between.
This is why she’s super strong, she’s not superhuman, she’s a robot, an android, or something that’s not alive, something that isn’t killed. This is why at Palace she broke Uub with a punch, there were no powers to take away.
Her first step is awkward, robotic, but her second is normal, gaining back her stance after being so gravely injured. She tilts her head at me and I see it now, why her eyes are so empty, why she never reacts or shifts, she’s a machine manufactured to unnerve and terrify, even down to her words.
It reveals something else, who made her- it- whatever- this means there’s someone else.
Even her words aim to break me, “What’s the matter, Thomas? Was it easier to hit a human?”
“What are you?” is my response to this… thing that has killed good people
“I’m a huntress, and you’re my prey, which means it’s time to take you back to the camp.” She jaunts her head up straight and asks, “Does that answer your question?” No, but it makes my fire dull. “Silence is preferred.”
Have I damaged her? She’s sounding more like a robot, less human and demeaning, speaking in phrases and what not.
“Now back to it,” Hundress says the moment she gets into my face, showing that her ability to move has not been damaged.
Especially not her ability to crack me across the chin.
After feeling her knock a tooth loose, I try to fly up but she grabs my leg. I respond by kicking her across the face, which hurts me more I’m sure.
She responds by tossing me into the ground.
My arm starts to feel numb rather than on fire, useless even. Once one limb starts to go, you can feel the rest of the body start to follow.
One of the next things to go is eyesight, and I’m losing it.
She kicks me and I smack against the ground like a coin against the water, but I recover midair to face her. She’s on me again, grabbing me by my legs and pulling me down.
She kicks me right in the stomach and I go flying, right through a tree. It comes toppling down, a trunk of flames after I go through it. Again, I try to roll and recover on the ground only to see her burst through the tree as it falls apart, running for me like a mad woman with a mission.
I throw fireballs her way, hoping to blind her, but I can only shoot so many with one arm. I fly above the fireball only for her to leap over it and meet me. Our fists are raised and they are up for us to meet, and we each land a hit on each other. I don’t see where I hit her, I feel her be sent back a few feet to earth, same as me.
I land flat on my stomach, bad place to be, a really bad place. She’s faster than me, she feels no pain, and she punches harder. I’m pushing myself up to keep up but it doesn’t matter.
I’m eating dirt.
Alright, with her foot slamming into my back, and smushing me into the dirt, I’m in dire need of a comeback moment. There are lives on the line, there are people I care about who aren’t running away, along with the people who will surely be hurt if the Savaage captures me for whatever plan they have in store.
This time she uses her hand to grab and lift me by the back of my head. She lifts me up to see her metal face. There’s no sign of stress in a mess of metal and bolts, nothing to show that I’ve done anything but ruin her looks. I don’t see a way-
Hundress punches me in my gut, forcing the wind from my lungs, making my insides feel like they’re about to burst!
Then there’s her knuckle against my head.
I’m receiving… the beatdown of a lifetime… who thinks… that… I’m going to hear them…?
I feel myself being lifted, up over Hundress’s head, seeing the world upside down. She’s pulling me inwards, crushing me until my spine slowly snaps. I can barely see, or hear anything being all dazed and confused, overcome by the increasing levels of pain.
The Hood wouldn’t fall to this, he wouldn’t be blinded by pain, unlike me.
I kept hearing someone yell my name, over and over, and I don’t pay much attention, not at least until I hear, “Mama!” Mama?
“Let go of him!” I hear Mom’s voice, and that brings me the focus to pay attention, especially as she hits the back of Hundress’s head with a stick.
Metal still beats wood, and flesh, and now, oh god Mama, what have you done?
I can’t let anything happen I can’t let Hundress kill Mama like she did Uub. I won’t.
The fire surrounds me, I ignite the pyre, and fly up out of her grasp, but I grab Hundress’s arm so she’s in mine.
Hundress swings her leg up to kick me in my face and I even feel my nose break, but I only feel more focused, more energized, so I don’t let go. I spin, I spin and throw her metal ass into the nearest tree.
She nearly splits the tree in half, hitting it with her back. I can see her struggling to get up, pushing herself up from the tree and this battle shows no signs of ending with me winning. Fire doesn’t hurt her, punching her doesn’t hurt her, maybe dropping her, the force could-
Hundress eats some bullets, with them bouncing off of her skull. It takes only a second and a few more shots for me to see who’s shooting her, and she does too.
Pretty sure it’s illegal to carry in Adds Circle, but he was never one for rules. Now it could get him killed.
He tries to stop Hundress with bullets but that’s not going to work! He’s going to get himself killed!
He’s walking towards her as he shoots and she pulls herself up from the tree, shrugging the bullets off. I fly down, back towards them and he realizes that he isn’t doing anything, and she’s about to lunge for him.
The moment she dashes and grabs his gun, I’m there to protect my family.
My shoulder feels like it’s hit a brick wall, but that’s okay. I’m tackling her, shoving her tin can face into the ground. I let go of her to slam both flaming hands down on her chest, screaming, “Leave! My! Family! Alone! Uck-!”
I feel my bleeding arm squish, like I’m helping push the blood out of the bullet hole. Isn’t my healing factor supposed to help with that? Or is it too busy trying to block the pain and keep me from having a heart attack?
She responds with a punch across my face, so I grab her arm with one hand and her neck in the other, holding her away from me as I unleash a heat she has never seen.
I fly high up, several stories where I won’t burn anyone but her. She’s the only one I want to hurt.
I turn up the heat, draining it from the air and land around me. The heat energy I absorb enters through my skin, it seeks out my center, to come together and raise the temperature and pressure for all I’ve got.
Hundress is kicking, punching me with her free hand, all while her metal bones are heating up, getting ready to melt. I take a beating like I’ve never felt before. I feel my mind slipping away with every punch, my eyesight becoming dazed as my flames slowly turn blue all around me. It becomes so hard to see, but I hear something I’ve been ignoring most of this fight.
I hear the wings of the helicopter, I search for the black in the blue hue over my eyesight, and I think I see it behind Hundress.
That last hit was pretty bad, I feel like a tooth just came loose in my mouth, and I can’t hold it any longer, I can’t wait. I let it all… go.
“Tis is gunno hut,” I tell Hundress. I meant ‘this is gonna hurt,’ but my face is fucked up. I think she can give me a break.
I don’t know how large the explosion is, I’m the epicenter and I can’t see anything. Fire erupts around me all the time, but that’s from funneling off other things. The first wave leaves me blind as fire comes from my eyes.
The fire eventually stops leaping from every pore, letting me see myself encapsulated in a sphere, like I’m the core of the sun. A sun that’s burning away the rest of Hundress’s skin and gear, revealing herself as the mechanical monstrosity she is. Her hand reaches for me, the fire pushing her away as she tries to strangle me, but she doesn’t have the strength for this.
I give one last push, to the fire, and send her packing.
The second boom is like an aftershock, a pulse, and it makes her lose her grip, and it completely silences the fire around me. No more fire, no more flying, just falling.
Yeah, I think I can take a break, releasing everything that I had, and then some. I didn’t know I had that much.
I fall out of my bubble as it begins to dissipate and fall around the ground below in smoldering embers. I see Hundress falling away from me, towards her helicopter like I wanted.
She smashes right through it, to the ground where it falls on her. If I weren’t running on ‘E’ right now, I’d laugh and drone on about how cool it is to watch a helicopter turn to Swiss cheese, but I’ll settle for a smile. At least until I hit the ground.
I’m not metal, I don’t make a crater, I just smack into the ground and feel the air leave my lungs again. I think this might be the worst feeling I seem to keep experiencing, physically anyway. Every time I try to take a breath, it’s like a hand constricts around my throat right as the air enters my mouth.
In case anyone was wondering, when someone has the wind knocked out of them, that is the worst time to touch them, just let them lay there.
“Tommy!” I hear several people call, over and over, happily as I’ve won. I feel as Sofia touches me, and then lets me go because I’m so hot. Sofia is followed by Mama pushing her away only to learn the same lesson.
Jonas yells at them, “Let the man breath!”
“Please, please listen to him,” I croak out as my body lets in air but Mama picks me up to squeeze it out.
“I’m sorry,” she tells me as she loosens her hold, and my family surrounds me. “I was so scared, when I couldn’t do anything, and then you-”
That’s the sound that comes from the helicopter’s debris.
That’s the sound of metal moving against metal.
I put my hands to my back, and try to push myself up, Mama helping me to see the helicopter. I’ve never wished for the ability to scream before now.
The helicopter is a burning mess in the ground, the propellers having gotten stuck with the doors struggling to open. I see the door trying to slide, stuck with the snapped propeller in the way, and fingers in between the door and its snatch.
“Oh, come on,” I groan, not believing what I’m seeing.
“<Oh my god,>” Mama whispers, watching as we all do, the helicopter being ripped open, and the figure stomping out of the flames.
“Jesus Christ, <why won’t that thing just die already?!>” Jonas screams as he throws his arm up.
I feel the same way, I’m tired, spent, I can barely change the temperature, barely stand even, and this machine is still going like nothing has changed. I still need to fight though, still need to protect my family. But, but, maybe….
I reach for my father behind my sister, “Papa, do you have any clips left for your gun?”
He looks at me funny, utterly confused, and informs me that, “They’re not called-“
“Dad!” Sofia yells at him.
“I have three in the clip.”
“Give them to me,” I tell him as I struggle to get back up, Mama helping me, but holding me back the second I try to move forward.
She tugs on my arm so I look at her face, and I see how afraid she is for me. “Don’t go back, we need to run,” she believes, but I know better.
“I can’t run, Mama, she’s after me, she’ll follow me or she’ll kill other people so I come back,” and I bring my finger to her shoulder, and tell her, “You need to run, please.”
“No,” she whispers with a shake of her head.
“Please,” I beg, they have to be safe, I don’t fight for nothing.
Mama tries to hang onto my arm, and I try to wretch her off, but I can’t. Papa wraps his arm around her, pulling her back.
“No!” she screeches as Papa pulls her back, and she tries to elbow him as he tosses me the clip. Three bullets.
Mama keeps calling no, struggling against Papa, but I have to go. I turn back and Sofia embraces me, but I push her off immediately, with my hands to her shoulders. I let one go to grab Jonas and bring his hand to her. “He’s your responsibility, take him and run.”
Sofia shakes her head, but Hundress is still coming, slower, but coming. I don’t have time. I push past my sister, and she tries to grab me but Jonas clings to her arm. She doesn’t chase after me, hopefully she knows what’s important.
Hundress is struggling, limping, and a part of me is prideful that I’ve done something to hurt her, but shameful because it’s not enough. I hear her talking, but not to me, to someone else.
“Bring back another helicopter, and send someone else after the girl, I can’t do it, I must finish this boy.”
While she’s talking to whoever, I try to raise the gun clip to line up with my eyes as Hundress and I walk to meet each other. Before this distance would have been covered in half a second, now nearly a dozen.
I bring my thumb behind the top bullet, with the clip aimed at Hundress, and heat up my thumb in a quick flash.
The bullet ignites, and my fire boosts it straight, it actually worked! The bullet does damage too, hitting Hundress in her left shoulder blade, making her swing her arm back, finally degrading. The heat was too much.
I shoot her again, delaying her arm’s distance by a few more seconds, grazing and cutting a line in her cheek, and this last shot is for all the marbles.
I’m no marksmen, I’m just really close, but I have to rely on bullet physics without the gun, so let’s hope I’m lucky. Let’s hope as I aim the last one for her head, and she’s reeling back her other fist, that I make it.
I don’t, I miss and she slams her fist into my stomach so hard I see black lines in my vision.
I think I’m hanging on her fist as she holds me up. I look down to see her face, this red and black metal skeleton, with so little that’s human on the inside. There’s no remorse, no regret, no emotion, but I feel spite as she twists her fist into my stomach.
I feel spite the second I hear the blades of another helicopter, as she removes her hand and lets me fall on my face. I feel hate when her hand reaches down and grasps the back of my neck and lifts me from that.
I’m dazed, my sight moving back and forth. The helicopter is here, it has come to take me away.
I miss when it lands, I don’t miss being tossed in. I miss Hundress getting in, I don’t miss her foot coming down on my fingers, and being so empty of strength that I can’t scream. The black lines only get bigger and the corners of my eyes consume me.
Hundress won, she beat me, in front of everyone. I- I should have won, that’s what I’m supposed to do, and I didn’t.