A Change of Pace – Chapter 49

Angela spent the ten minutes watching everyone else. She had multiple plans, considering multiple variables in place for today; and she just needed to see which one was going to work best.

<Looks like the SUBs are teaming up,> Angela categorized the three other women under the term Anika had coined. Angela preferred to do her trash talking with her powers instead of by running her mouth, but she had to admit that Anika had a point.

Angela’s feelings toward the women aside, they would be a tough nut to crack if she came across them; cryokinesis, laser blasts, and paralysis were some potent offensive weaponry. What the three women lacked was defense, so Angela’s plan for them depended on if she was able to sneak up on them or not. If she successfully surprised them then she’d attack while she had the advantage. If they found her, then she’d probably have to retreat, regroup, and come at them from another direction.

A lot of the other teams she saw were what she expected. Anika and Becca would be formidable, but not unsurmountable; the same was true of Mason and Kyoshi. <I don’t know who they think they’re fooling,> Angela saw right through them standing on opposite sides of the freshman group.

Some of the teams were a surprise. She never guessed that Seth would team up with Casey Williams, but it made sense. Casey was the only other standard strongman in the class, so she could bring a lot of power to the team. Seth was versatile, and although they were both ranked relatively high, they would be difficult to defeat by any other two person team. That was how most of the groupings were turning out. No one wanted to stretch their points too thin with three people. Only the SUBs and one other group braved going that big.

Angela looked over all the options, and selected her most viable plan. She’d probably have to avoid immediate direct combat unless it was inescapable, but she was confident this plan would take her far.

“Listen up,” Coach Meyers interrupted everyone’s planning session as she walked back into the group. “Your ten minutes are up. Your five minutes to get to your starting point starts…now.”

The board in this waiting room was a little different than the one in the waiting room by the combat cells. The one by the combat cells was big and digital; this one was huge and analogue. Angela didn’t know why they didn’t update it, and she didn’t have time to think about it. Like an old fashioned schedule at a train station or airport, yellow letters flipped over to reveal everyone’s name, starting point, and one new piece of information.

<Distance?> Angela was confused until she found her own information. <B6 and a quarter mile,> that couldn’t be good. She only had five minutes to get to her door, so she couldn’t sit around trying to solve a riddle that might not be a riddle at all.

Angela quickly found the hallway marked B that branched off the room they were in. The letters had lit up when the board turned over, and now everyone was scrambling to get to their starting points. Angela felt more than saw Becca blur past her as she streaked down her own hallway, but she did catch Anika running down another.

<Becca is in A and Anika in C,> Angela committed it to memory. Since it looked like she might get sandwiched between the two other Supers.

It seemed the coaches didn’t really care about the plans they made in the last ten minutes. Their starting points were predetermined, so the alliances that were just formed might never actually happen because people might not be able to find their partners. It was a smart way to start the final, because it was rarely so simple for Heroes.

Angela started running, and soon all the sounds of people in the main room behind her vanished. All she heard was her own breathing, and the breathing of the other people running down hallway B. No one talked, and every face she saw was focused. These weren’t the people who’d walked into the initial combat rankings filled with idealism and believing their powers made them invulnerable. They’d all suffered too many bruises, broken noses, and complete defeat at the hands of each other and their coaches to still have the mindset. Everyone here was ready for battle in their own way, and they all had a plan.

<Hanover, Richardson, Webb, Masters, Jacobsen,> Angela noted the people who arrived at the five doors before her.

She assumed they’d come out relatively close to each other in the arena, and that was good. The only one who might give her a problem was Webb; even though his ability was to augment his muscles and bones into a creature with enhanced physical attributes, he wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t going to attack the top ranked freshman all by himself. It also put her close to an individual essential to her plan, so the final was off to a good start.

Angela had herself down to just under a six minute mile since she started physical training, so she was able to make it a quarter mile in two minutes without breaking too much of a sweat. Door B6 was not like the other five previous doors she’d passed. The other doors were the same armored entryways as the combat cells. While the actual door to B6 was probably like that, what led up to it wasn’t. A set of barebones stairs climbed up all the way to the hallways ceiling; a good forty feet up. Angela didn’t skip a step, and climbed the stairs two at a time until she was at the top, but her mind was racing with possibilities.

<There could be buildings, cliffs, a small mountain,> her mind ran through possible natural and manmade terrain that would have her starting forty feet higher than everyone else.

Angela’s parents had told her stories of Battleball when she was a girl, or when she needed a little extra motivation during training. Those stories always told of a different course every time. The faculty never did the same course twice for the same class, but the arena was always big. <Which explains the quarter mile run.> And judging by the distances on the board, the course was a lot bigger than that.

The run was the easiest part of the five minute wait before the final began. Angela controlled her breathing, got her heartrate back down to its resting fifty beats per minute, and stretched a little. Not that it would matter when she shifted. Her angelic form would shed any of the weariness, and even the sweat that her human form had accumulated. The hardest part, as it usually was, was waiting. It was easy to overthink things when you had time to let your mind wander, so Angela stayed focused. She cleared her mind, focused on the warm glow that contained her power, and watched the clock next to the door tick down.

When the clock hit zero the armored door popped open. Angela opened it to step inside, but there was nowhere to step. Instead of being a doorway that led into the arena, she was staring at some type of chute. It reminded her of the waterslides she’d enjoyed as a kid, except this one was pitch black and didn’t lead to a pool of water as far as she knew.

Angela didn’t hesitate more than a half second before hoisting herself up, swinging her legs into the chute, and disappearing into the darkness. The door closed behind her with an ominous thud, blotting out the few rays of light that were able to penetrate into the shaft. She slid along the tube for a few seconds before it started to twist and turn. The twisting and turning lasted nearly a minute, and forced Angela to reevaluate where she would be emerging. If everyone was going through these chutes and being disoriented, then she could be anywhere, and near anybody when she got out. She thought she’d gotten a lucky draw, but apparently they did everything possible to eliminate any chance of luck in an HCP final.

Angela kept her cool and remained patient and she slid around dark corners, and even did a flip. She couldn’t be sure because she was picking up speed the longer she was in the chute, but she was pretty sure she felt like she was going up, around, and coming back down. Angela hadn’t been to many amusement parks when she was younger, but she assumed this was what a rollercoaster felt like.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, but was probably closer to a minute, Angela saw light at the end of her literal tunnel. It appeared quickly and overwhelmed her eyes. She felt herself leave the chute, and braced herself to land ass first on the ground. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust and the continued feeling of weightlessness to figure out what was going on.

Angela was still in the air. She’d been launched out of her chute high above the rest of the arena. Her speed continued to carry her forward, giving her a good look at the cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood below her, and the city not far to her left.

<I need to move,> Angela quickly got her bearings. <I don’t want to be vulnerable target.> Beginning in the air was good for preliminary surveillance, but a human being flying through the air was also a pretty big target; and there were people in her class that would take full advantage of her momentary weakness.

Just as gravity started to reassert its hold on her, Angela grabbed the glowing pulse of her power and pulled. To anyone in the arena it probably looked like a solar flare had just erupted; but the light quickly faded and was replaced by a winged, armored angel.

Angela sighed as the intoxicating bouquet of her power flooded through her, but didn’t allow herself to bask in it too long. She spread her large bronze wings; fighting inertia to bring herself to a sudden stop. She did a quick turn to assess her surroundings, and spotted another student being tossed into the arena. The student screamed, a high pitch yelp that identified her as female. She also began to fall, but only tumbled a few feet before her forward motion abruptly ceased. She righted herself, and began to scan the area exactly like Angela.

Angela felt the breeze stir around her, and quickly dove for the ground. Two powerful beats of her wings and the angelic shifter dropped forty feet and out of the other woman’s sight. If the faculty was tossing people into the air who could fly then that had to be Jacqueline Eaton, and it was a pretty good rule of thumb to not get into an aerial battle with an aerokinetic.

Angela pulled up just before she hit the ground and flew down the suburban street a couple feet off the ground. She was moving fast, fast enough that other freshman probably wouldn’t be able to hit her with an attack as she passed. But that was a big maybe, so after darting down one street Angela swooped left and landed behind one of a typical, run-of-the-mill looking middle class house. As a matter of fact, the one story ranch looked a lot like the house her parents had stayed in when Angela got her acceptance to the HCP.

<It would make sense if the DVA was contracting construction out to the same bidder…stop it…get your head in the game,> Angela shook away the stray thought and concentrated on what was right in front of her.

The wind in the area was still stirring, so Angela backed deeper into the darkness offered by the shadows of the house. She nearly smacked her head against the hovering silver orb. She’d totally forgotten that the object was still with her. It had followed her down the chute, being shot into the air, through her transformation, and during her dive into hiding. She moved it into a position so she could hide in the shadows while still using its reflective surface to get a good line of site into the suburban neighborhood.

Not thirty seconds after she’d concealed herself in shadows Angela saw Jacqueline fly into the area. The aerokinetic had obviously seen her, and was searching for a fight. The air manipulator didn’t have a chance in hell of beating Angela alone, so she assumed that there was a team coming after her. As much as Angela wanted to spring into action and defeat her classmates, jumping blindly into a situation without good intelligence was never a good idea. So she stayed in the shadows and watched.

Jacqueline hovered above the neighborhood scanning the area until twin beams of red gold light lanced across the sky, barely missing the aerokinetic’s torso. Jacqueline spun in the air, a funnel of turbulent wind whirling around her, but the counter did nothing to stop another round of blasts from hitting her in the leg.

Angela heard the other woman’s piercing scream as the twin beams blasted right through her thigh. Her hands instinctually went to the wounds, and she dropped half the distance to the ground before she could fight through the pain and get control of her power again. Stable, but with blood dripping through her fingers, Jacqueline shot away from the area Angela was hiding as fast as she could.

Angela stayed exactly where she was. She could gain points by going after the injured Super, but that would only put her in the line of fire. She kept herself confined to the shadows, and thirty seconds later two more Supers flew into her view.

“Faster you idiot, don’t let her get away or we’ll lose the points.”

Lorelei Gilford was leading the two person team, and she was being carried by the number twelve ranked Simon Skylar. Apparently, the three SUBs hadn’t been grouped close enough together to team up, so Lorelei had teamed up with the next strongest person she could find. Simon had both of them encircled in his three foot gravity bubble, and they went flying off after Jaqueline. Judging by the speed they were moving, and the amount of bickering between the two Supers, Angela guessed that they wouldn’t catch the faster aerokinetic; and her money was on them turning on each other way before that.

Angela watched them go, and returned her attention to her immediate surroundings. She took a deep breath and smelled the air. It was clean, but had a hit of a smoky smell to it. Not the smoke from a city’s pollution, but smoke like someone nearby was puffing on a cigarette. Either one of the people who built this place was smoking on the job, or they were doing a really good job of simulating the surroundings.

Angela had already scanned the area with her eyes, so she shut them and let her hearing try to search out anything. No sooner had she closed her eyes and focused on the sounds around her than she heard the light pattering of footsteps. The sounds were growing louder each second, and they were rapid. Someone was running in her direction.

Angela opened her eyes and used a nearby window to look down the street without revealing her location. Running along the sidewalk, scanning the area just like her was Derrick Masters. The class’s only healer looked nervous, probably because he’d seen Lorelei and Simon fly by just like Angela had.

Angela almost felt sorry for her classmate. If he’d come across any number of other students he’d probably have a chance. Derrick’s self-healing and hand-to-hand combat skills were good, but they weren’t a match for Angela.

Angela waited for the healer to come to her. He was out in the open, which was a mistake; but at least he was being vigilant. He passed by her hiding spot, and was unfortunately looking the other way. With a thought Angela summoned her spear and threw it at Derrick. The Super only caught a glimpse of the energy construct streaking toward him before it slammed into and through his shoulder. Angela had aimed carefully to put the bladed tip right into his collarbone and above any vital organs.

The force of the weapon slamming through his flesh picked Derrick up off the ground and tossed him back several feet. Angela wasn’t worried about any lethality infractions, because the boy’s self-healing allowed her to be far more physical than with most of the other freshman. With one flap of her wings, Angela quickly crossed the distance between them. Derrick was trying to get up; one hand was on the shaft of the spear getting ready to pull it out, while the other was pressed against the ground.

Angela didn’t give him the opportunity. She landed on top of the healer, pressing one foot into his chest, forcing him back to the ground, and used one hand to push on the spear shaft. Derrick screamed with pain as Angela pushed more of her weapon through him and into the ground, effectively pinning the weaker Super to the street.

“Surrender, Derrick,” Angela gave him the option, hesitating to do any more damage to her defeated classmate.

Derrick was ranked forty-two of forty-six. He’d failed to move up in the rankings all semester, and that obviously bugged him. His personality was pretty juvenile compared to a lot of the other boys in the class, and despite being defeated in ranking matches and physical training by girls, he still had a kernel of a chauvinist attitude left.

All of that led to his adamant refusal. “Fuck you, Angela.”

“Very well,” Angela didn’t want to spend a lot of time out in the open dealing with him.

She leaned over his feeble body, and gave him two strong punches to the face. The first broke his nose, jaw, and gave him a concussion, and the second knocked him out.

“I’ll take it from here,” a voice behind Angela made her jump off her unconscious victim.

Coach McMillian was standing there in a bright orange vest. The outfit screamed safety person, and answered any questions about who would be removing people from the arena once they were beaten.

“Good job Martin, get back to the game,” the speedster coach didn’t dawdle. He scooped up Derrick, who was already regaining consciousness, and was gone in a flash.

<One down forty-five to go,> Angela thought as she planned her next step.

The sound of a bottle shattering on the ground interrupted the thought process. Angela’s eyes focused in on the black uniformed female half a block away. Apparently, she’d been watching the brief fight from behind the cover of two garbage cans, but when she backed away she’d nudged one. Angela couldn’t see, but the way the woman turned and ran showed the shifter that they didn’t want to fight.

Angela shot after the new opponent, quickly overtaking her, and landing in front of her. A glowing orb appeared in front of Stephanie Jacobsen, the last ranked member of the class. Stephanie didn’t attack, because she wouldn’t be able to do anything. Stephanie’s light orbs were great if you were stuck in a dark space, but they hadn’t shown any offensive capability.

Angela smiled at the other woman. <It seems like there is a little luck after all.>

“Hey, Stephanie,” Stephanie was so shocked she wasn’t getting tossed into a nearby house that she let her orb disappear.

“Uh…hey, Angela,” the other Super couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“I need a partner,” Stephanie’s jaw dropped at her unexpected good fortune. “Are you in or are you out?”

There was never any doubt about the answer. The weakest person in the class getting asked by the strongest person in the class to team up, was something no one saw coming. Especially the Heroes watching through the floating “ball’s” eyes.

“Hell yeah,” Stephanie’s surprise turned into enthusiasm.

Angela’s smile echoed the other Super’s feelings. “Good, because I’ve got a plan that’s going to rack up a lot of points for both of us.”

 

***

 

Mason had trouble fitting into the chute beyond his armored door. He didn’t have to go too far from the main room, his door was A2. He only went a few hundred yards down hallway A, but then he had to climb up a forty feet of stairs, through a door in the hallway’s ceiling, and then up many more before he got to his assigned door. Then he had to sit there for four minutes before the armored hatch popped open.

Mason did his best to squeeze into the tight space, but it was clearly meant for someone a lot smaller than him. He sucked it in as best he could, but there wasn’t a lot of excess body fat on his massive frame. The edges of the chute caught on his black uniform and he ended up tearing it in a few spots. That said a lot about how forceful Mason had to be to squeeze into the space. The uniforms were designed to be extra durable.

Mason got half of his body into the chute before he ran into his next problem. There was no way in hell he was going to be able to fit the combined width of his arms and shoulders into the chute. It took a few seconds of brainstorming, but he came up with a solution. Mason put both of his hands above his head in a streamline position. It looked like he was doing a pencil dive into the chute. With extra room to squeeze through, he started to ungulate back and forth. Inch by inch he worked himself farther into the tube.

It was awkward and painful since the chute quickly dropped off at a ninety degree angle, but eventually Mason got his mass through the small hole. Luckily, the chute itself was a little wider than the entrance. He had to make sure to keep everything tight and sucked in as he slid down the dark tunnel. The last thing he wanted to do was get snagged, and have to be dug out by the coaches. That would be really embarrassing.

Thankfully, Mason didn’t have to go far. He wasn’t in the chute for more than ten seconds before he felt his feet clear the exit. The rest of his body soon followed, and then he was falling. Mason flailed wildly as the helpless sensation overwhelmed him, but it didn’t last long. With a loud crash, that alerted anyone nearby to his location, Mason plowed into the floor. He coughed at the dust he kicked into the air, and waved a hand in front of his face to clear it and see where he was.

It looked like he was in some sort of office building. Windows surrounded him on all four sides, giving him a great view of a small city that spread out around him. The whole floor was open and filled with chairs and desks underneath white covers. Whatever this place was it hadn’t been used in a while. He let out a few more coughs before the dust settled, and he extracted himself from the impact crater he’d made. It was a good thing the floor was sturdy and reinforced because he would have gone straight through anything less durable.

<Now what?> The first step of his and Kyoshi’s plan was to rendezvous after they entered the arena. Unfortunately, Kyoshi had to go all the way to C4; so Mason had no idea where she was.

<Mason…Mason,> his girlfriend’s telepathic voice was barely perceptible.

<Kyoshi!> Mason yelled back. <I can barely hear you.>

                <I’m in some apartment building at the edge of the city,> Mason walked over to the window and looked out.

It was impossible to tell where Kyoshi was. The city wasn’t large, but there were half a dozen skyscrapers, another dozen buildings around the ten story mark, and a lot of buildings on the outskirts between two to five stories. Kyoshi could be in any one of those.

A quick look around told Mason exactly where he was. <I’m at the top of the biggest building in the city,> he relayed his location.

<Crap,> Mason could hear her frustration. <I’m at least a mile away.>

                <Crap,> Mason echoed her concern.

Running a mile in physical training would only take them a few minutes, but that was on a straight track. Running a mile through a city, with forty-four other Supers looking to take them out wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

<Set a rally point and I’ll meet your there,> Mason stated, searching for a good place.

<Meet at the…> Mason never got to hear the conclusion of her thought.

A loud BANG echoed through the floor as the door exploded off its hinges and clattered into the office space. Carson Long took one step into the room and gave Mason a triumphant smile. He was followed closely by Liam and Isaac.

<Now that just isn’t fair,> Mason put as much space as he could between himself and his three opponents. <Kyoshi and I end up a full city apart and these three douches get to team up right away.> Mason knew he shouldn’t be complaining. He knew better than most that life wasn’t fair.

“You should have teamed up with us,” the powerful boxer wouldn’t have that grin plastered on his face if Liam and Isaac weren’t present.

One on one the three guys wouldn’t stand a chance against Mason, but if they fought well together they had a better than average chance of defeating the strongman. Mason tried to adjust his positioning, but the three other Supers countered his movements. As much as he wanted them to attack him one at a time he knew that wouldn’t happen. This wasn’t some B rated action movie. Even if Mason didn’t like the three guys across from him, they’d received the same training he had.

At close range Carson, with his kinetic and thermal strikes, was the most dangerous of the three; but Liam wasn’t too far behind him. Liam was the highest ranked of the three man team since Carson’s loss to Seth. He looked a lot like Carson, tall, broad shoulders, close cut blond hair, and he was also well trained in close combat. The only difference was that with Liam’s power he only needed to hit you once.

Liam was classified as a toxic obfuscator, and he showed his power by taking a deep breath and exhaling a tidal wave of noxious green gas. The gas could knock a human right on their ass ten seconds after contact, and he could dial up the toxicity enough to kill. He wouldn’t risk going that high during the final; which was good for Mason. As a strongman he was naturally more resistant to poisons, toxins, and a number of other biological attacks on the human body. He wasn’t immune, but he’d survive long enough to get help.

Mason took a deep breath, held it, and closed his eyes as the gas flooded over him. He needed to think of something fast. The toxic gas breath was only one of Liam’s tricks. Mason needed to watch out of what was coming next. On top of breath that could kill someone, Liam skin produced a neurotoxin that could completely paralyze someone. A full dose of it would even mess up Mason pretty good.

<Think…think,> Mason needed to do something or he was going to be out of this final before it even got started.

<Mason, what’s going on?> Kyoshi was back in his head, her mental voice a little panicked.

<I can’t talk right now,> Mason gritted his teeth.

He was backing up, putting as much distance as he could between his three opponents and him. While the gas was definitely a problem, it was a problem for Carson and Isaac too. Neither of them could walk through the toxic atmosphere without getting injured; and although Liam created it, he couldn’t see through it any better than anyone else. That at least bought Mason a bit of time.

                <Come on!> Mason was moving sideways along the glass now, his oxygen was running low, and he still didn’t have any idea what to do. <Damn it!> He hit the glass and felt it crash slightly under the light blow. He heard the hiss of the artificial wind howling this far up.

The lightbulb went off in Mason’s head, and he forced himself not to smile. The strongman made a fist, lightly tapped the window he’d slightly broken before, and dove out of the way. The frail glass shattered loudly under his love tap, throwing the glass out into the sky. The hiss of leaking air became a howl as the higher altitude gusts filled the vacuum in the room, and did exactly what he wanted. The toxic gas, which had been directed by Liam, was tossed all over the room. Carson and Isaac screamed as toxic fumes smashed into them. Mason heard them tripped and falling over the office furniture as they scrambled to get out of the room.

While all of this happened, Mason had no choice but to wait. He hoped that some of the gas would be sucked out of the room by the wind, or at least diluted enough that it wouldn’t seriously hurt him. He waited until he was about to pass out to find out.

When Mason opened his eyes the room was in a haze. The toxic gas hadn’t completely dissipated, and he felt the unfriendly substance work its ways into his eyes. Instead of pronounced pain and a debilitating reaction his eyes just felt really dry. He blinked, trying to get some tears to relieve the irritation, but he didn’t get much.

<Well it’s better than being finished off within five minutes of starting,> Mason scrambled to his feet. It was a good thing too, because Liam was only fifteen feet away and heading toward him.

Mason grabbed the first thing he got his hands on and tossed it at the incoming obfuscator. Liam tried to dodge, but Mason had tossed a circular conference table that would comfortably seat eight at him. The edge of the table clipped him in the side, and sent him spiraling away. Liam might be toxic but he was still as vulnerable as an average human. Liam wasn’t out of the fight yet though. He hopped back to his feet, cradling his arm, but started continued to stalk Mason.

“Carson, Isaac, get in here!” Liam called, keeping his distance in order to dodge anything else that Mason threw at him.

No one answered him. Liam pulled his eyes away from Mason and looked over toward the door. It was possible that the gas had taken one or both of them out already. In that case Liam was in serious trouble. Mason was hopeful that he’d get a one on one match against Liam, but the movement in the corner of his eye dashed that hope.

“Get over there and…” Liam started to shout, but abruptly stopped.

Liam’s body, which was previously crouched and ready to react quickly to any of Mason’s attack, shot into an upright position. It looked like someone had shot him with a Taser, but he wasn’t going down. Instead, he stood ramrod straight, and didn’t do anything.

“What do you want me to do,” a feminine voice answered with her W’s sounding like V’s.

Mason knew that voice, and he underwent mental whiplash as he switched from one threat to another. Natalia Romanoff had just interrupted their fight, and he had nothing to counteract her power.

“Come on Mason, come sit and have a chat with me,” her voice was enticing, but Mason held no illusions that one of the most stuck up girls in the class wanted to partner with him.

Mason mind raced for a solution to his second problem in as many minutes. As far as he knew, Carson, Isaac, and Liam were all incapacitated; which was good. He didn’t know much about Natalia other than what the girls in his townhouse said, but he imagined that she wouldn’t be kind to the three boys.

Mason couldn’t counter her paralysis other than not making eye contact. So he shuffled along the windows with his back turned to her. There was nothing she could do to hurt him by herself, but if she had a teammate with offensive powers then he might have a problem. His thoughts were interrupted by another set of footsteps coming up the stairs.

<Really, come on,> Mason growled as the footsteps grew louder.

“He won’t turn to face me. Get his power,” Natalia commanded, and footsteps started to rush across the room.

The context of the command left little to the imagination. There was only one person in the class who could get his power, and he was Mason’s first opponent during the ranking matches.

Mason stared out of the window as Nathan Flynn, the power copier, ran across the room to copy his power. The last thing he wanted to do was give anyone else in this final his strength, and since he options were so limited he only saw one viable solution.

<What the hell,> Mason grinned despite his precarious situation. <I’ve always wanted to try this.>

Mason was standing in front of the broken window. The footsteps were nearly on top of him now, so he didn’t waste any time. He angled himself out the window, so he wouldn’t smash his head against the frame, bent his legs, and launched himself out into the open air.

<Please don’t let me die…please don’t let me die…> he chanted to himself over and over again.

He didn’t have a lot of time to gauge the distance as he aimed for the closest building. The building next to one he’d just jumped out of was a good ten stories shorter, and Mason was not looking forward to the landing.

“Tuck and roll,” he muttered to himself as the roof rushed up to meet him.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance. Mason bent his legs to do the “tuck” portion, but the roof collapsed under the force of his fall. Mason gave up any chance of tucking and rolling as he crashed through one floor, then another, and then another. Each time he threw out his arms, grasping for something to stop his momentum, but he only succeeded in making a bigger hole. It wasn’t until he broke through into the fourth floor that he was able to get one hand on a support column. He grabbed it tight and didn’t let go. Thankfully, the column wasn’t as weak as this building’s floors. He still broke through the floor itself, but he was able to stop from falling through it. The column groaned dangerously, but it held.

“Ow,” Mason’s one syllable groan would have been comical if anyone was watching.

He quickly did a mental inventory, and found that he’d twisted his ankle pretty good. Considering he jumped from one building to another, fallen nearly fifteen stories, four of which were through the building itself; having a twisted ankle was a best case scenario.

With a sigh he pulled his lower half out of the hole he’d created and tried putting some weight on it. It was sore, and he wouldn’t be running anytime soon, but he could still move around. To test his theory he hobbled over to the window to take a look at his new surroundings. He was only five or six stories off the ground now, so all he needed to do was find an elevator so he could go link up with Kyoshi.

<Did you think of a rally point yet?> Mason projected his thoughts.

He had to wait a moment for a response. <Mason.> Kyoshi’s voice was flat and emotionless.

<Yeah,> he answered hesitantly.

<Did I just see you jump out of a fucking window?>

Mason didn’t know any other way to answer the question. <Yes.>

There was a long pause over their telepathic link before Kyoshi replied. <Meet me on the corner of 1st and 4th streets. There is a little corner diner that has a pretty good view of the surrounding area.>

<Ok,> Mason didn’t have any idea where he was. <I’ll be there.>

<Good, I’ll see you soon.>

For some reason Mason felt more frightened now than when he’d been facing down Carson, Liam, Isaac, Natalia, and Nathan.

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