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   Chapter 68

Damsel[ed] No Rescue Required By m i c h e l l e p a k Characters: 19154

Updated: 2017-12-12 12:04


Heaven.

I“ve lost him. For good or for now, I don“t know. And frankly, I“m in too deep to care. I brace myself off the cracking interior, gasping breaths to punctuate my thoughts, flecks of green paper catching under my nails. Dust lifts from the walls and windows, choking the air out of my lungs. But I can“t focus on Angel now. Can barely spare him a thought. I have to save who I can, and worrying over him won“t help anyone, certainly not Jaylin. If Angel won“t kill Owl, then I“ll do it myself. I“m like the little red hen of superheroing. Except I don“t even get a lousy loaf of bread out of it.

Priorities, Hev, priorities. I grip the window frame so hard straggler fractals burst outward, drywall and piping punching through with my touch. Bits stab into my fingers, motes floating near my eyes and catching the light like butterfly wings. Breathing deep, I decide that by the time I turn twenty I“ll be nothing more than a throbbing, miserable scab. I raise my unarmored fists and launch at Owl, who grips the sword in her free fist like a life-raft. Jaylin is limp and saggy in her grip. In the beginning, I knew something like this would happen to her. She betrayed super villains, but with all that happened, the thought slipped my mind.

Owl stabs for me, and I duck. The blade whooshes by my head with a teasing whistle. She drops Jaylin flat on the table, who groans and curls into a quivering ball. Her leg, snapped into pieces like a jigsaw puzzle after meeting Owl“s reinforced armor.

I suck in a breath and it tastes like bile. Owl grabs at my skull. Her finger grazes my ear, scraping the skin and ripping a chunk of cartilage. My curled fists smash into her unprotected chest and ribcage. She winks out of existence.

Her illusion powers kick in like a second thought as if she expected to play with me instead of really fighting. Good. I shut my eyes, something Storm taught me to do when fighting an enemy who can fool your vision. To rely on other senses, and most importantly, your gut.

As in the ones I spilled out in front of Owl. All my insecurity about dying, about not deserving the rest. She heard it. I feel like the guy who ticked off Zeus, the guy who had to push that dumb rock up that dumb hill until the end of time only to have it kicked down when he got to the top. And, you know, time doesn“t end. But I feel lighter, saying how I feel.

My knuckles find a soft spot that I pound relentlessly, hoping—praying—to cause enough damage that she stops for a breather. Jaylin cries out, and I wink one eye open.

Bad move.

Owl“s a puppetmaster, she pulls heartstrings. I refuse to believe her story about knowing my mother, and the thought that my dad died begging won“t compute. I know less about him than even about my mother, but I know that us Brooks are stupid. Foolhardy. But cowardly?

That“s something I can“t bring myself to believe, no matter how Owl may try to make me.

But the illusion she pulls, the one of my mother, that rips my very breath out of my chest. It“s only a flash, as quick as she pulls it, as quick as it leaves. Her eyes, as dark and warm as in the pictures, hair as curly and wild as mine, knotted and pulled back as if windblown. Saggy slacks, flowy mustard blouse, stained with sweat and blood. A blossom of red at the chest down the front and back, blue gauntlets at her wrists, the rest of her armor stripped. It only fazes me for a moment, but when it does, Owl pounces. She“s not playing Bounce the Super off the wall anymore. She spins the sword in her free hand. It glints in my peripherals, dazzling in the soft glow of morning light. My back hits the hard wall, but this time she doesn“t let go. A crushing hand on my throat. Pinned. I wriggle my shoulders. Hot pain washes through me, can feel it pulsing through old aches. The room tilts.

I shoot Owl a sheepish shrug. "I tried."

Her expression changes. The concentration and rage, the look of sheer primal hate. She blinks, and a warmth lights her eyes. She“s looking up and away, grinning. Like she can see something I can“t. My shot. I squirm my leg and lash a kick at her wrist. The sword wrenches free. Hits the ground. The pressure still, between her strength it mine, it“s like I“m being squeezed flat by steel plates. She slams her palm harder into my throat, all the muscles in my neck constricting against the force. Every breath comes out a gasping wheeze, every attempt at speech a spit-gargle.

"You want to die?" She smiles, and it“s a smile filled with termites. All I can focus on is breathing, the pop in my jaw as the muscles pulse and squeeze. Her fingers curl into my flesh. Figures move like shadows in the corners of my eyes. My breath is nailed in my lungs, and I can understand why suffocation would be Owl“s favorite method of execution. She glances back at her henchmen, who have blurred together in my kaleidoscope vision like a thick black soup. A flash of silver and white catches my eye like an apparition. A mirage. "I thought I“d keep you around, for your mother“s sake."

My mother. Am I really supposed to think I“m following her legacy, that I“m just the shitty sequel to the superhero that changed Starlight forever? Nebula. Is it really true Owl killed her?

All these thoughts, a whirlwind of thoughts. Questions, feelings. Strength comes from ripping your muscles over and over so that they heal over stronger than before. If I do that to myself, to my heart, my gut, would that make things better? Me, stronger?

I lift a finger and flourish at my throat. Her mechanical grip slackens, and I fall limp, swaying in her grasp. I have nothing to say to Owl, nothing to ask, not even about my mother. "Huh," I say, out of puns and one-liners

t my mother and me, gone. I“ve blinded her. Completely.

She squeezes. "You stupid little girl." I feel the bile rising, my air cutting off, my vision growing dark and spotty. Her eye flies open, and it“s gone all black like Angel“s. "I“m going to kill you like I had your parents killed. Then I“m going to kill your traitorous villain friend. And I“m going to take over your city. If this experiment goes well, I“ll neutralize all the other cities in the vicinity."

I wheeze. Something“s cracking in my neck.

"I“m going to use my son, your friend to do it. And your boyfriend?"

She smiles a killer“s smile. I lift my hand again, the pain raised from “ow“ to the type that makes you scream. Go down fighting, Hev. Maximum damage. Maximum impact. But there“s something breaking inside me, bleeding, and it“s not just my neck. I slash her cheek. She rams me back, that eerily sweet smile still intact. Piping and wire cut the base of my neck, trunk, legs. My strength seems to drain along with my blood.

"I“m going to use him to get Storm and Juniper to work for me, but I think I“ll keep him after that. He makes a good pet, don“t you think?"

I“m choking too hard to spit at her. The sword comes up, glowing now, flickering with flames Tiffany Box blue. I“ve only seen one once, at the bottom of my mother“s dresser, but it matches, so rich, the deepest shade of blue I“ve ever seen.

"Anything you“d like to say?" Her hand loosens, but not enough. I breathe in deep gulps, the air a luxury to me now. Gats nudges her wrist, the sword leveled at me. His eyes are hidden by the glow.

I shrug, the gesture brings hot bile to my throat. "Look out behind you."

Owl crushes my neck flat, vein bulging from the side of my head. Tendons, snapped. Bones, broken. My mind spinning from the pain, the blood, delirious. So delirious I almost don“t hear her scream, something so sharp and haunting it feels pulled out of a dream. Her hand loosens. Her blackened eye bulges, her face written with the closest thing to fear I“ve ever seen on her. And for a moment, she looks human, so vividly human and scared and alive.

My eyes travel down her chest, where the sword“s gleaming blade pokes out, just a little left of center. I squirm free and hit the ground on my feet, my head swimming with blackness, my throat pounding with the shrieking pain. I“m not sure if her bright, dripping blood is a hallucination. Not sure if everything else is, too.

Though I“ve bled out a lot, it still surprises me how much red there is in people.

I roll out of the way when she crumples forward on the sword. And it“s Gats I see, one hand gripping the sword so tight his hand has gone white. The other, farther up the glowing blade, his fingers still pointed in a guiding gesture toward Owl“s chest. Amateur swordsmanship. Blood red drips down the blade, onto his hands. It“s so bright it looks like paint, and it doesn“t compute, not at first. Stains on his arms, creeping down onto his chest. Blood splatters his shirt in patterns like a Rorschach test. His eyes, two discs, his twiggy little body shaking with nervous energy. Yet, he doesn“t look so young to me anymore. The only thing I see in his sweat-slicked face is shock, the blade flickering with its blue flames.

He swallows, rigid. Perfectly rigid, like I“m looking at a photograph. The only movement comes from the drip of blood, which runs down his arms in teardrops. There are gasps amongst the henchmen, but they, too, are perfectly still. Silence as they stare at their glorious leader, impaled on Gats“ sword like a chicken on a stick, her blood as bright as theirs. "Hev." His voice breaks. I touch my throat, each breath a wheeze. The flames fade, put out like the stars in his eyes.

And it hits me, all at once.

Owl is dead.

And Gats killed her.

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