The smoke hadn’t cleared from the remnants of the camp, but Colton dashed towards it. Stunned silence.
There were so many things I wanted to say to him, all at once, most of them just asking how stupid he could be.
Then it hit me that he’d seen what the camp looked like, so had a better idea of what to do than I did.
And with the camp covered in smoke, they couldn’t deploy guns without scything through their own ranks. This far from their base, they couldn’t call in reinforcements.
In a stupefying turn of events, in the midst of the enemy was the least likely place they could successfully shoot at us.
I raced in after him.
The camp was a mess of rising smoke, dirt, and the groaning soon to bed. Gut wounds, grenade shrapnel, and a half dozen other things had caught people off guard, though in the smoke I could see other people moving like I’d kicked a fire ant mound.
It wasn’t that hard to avoid getting taken out by a grenade, if you had a bit of forewarning, especially considering there were stone walls everywhere. And this was the military. So each grenade I’d thrown, while sealing more people, had diminishing returns. Colton dove through the center of the camp, his grin not at all contagious, flecks of dirt glistening across white teeth as he carved a path made of knives. Too close for bullets.
He dashed past a large monolithic grey slab of metal, throwing himself over top of it, sliding across and planting himself firmly into cover.
The smoke was clearing too quickly, and I grabbed it in my power and twisted it to keep up the cover, hot, thick smoke. He’d need cover if he was going to catch his breath, especially with a cracked rib.
Then dove through the mess of it, my hands slipping over to the Association issued gas grenades, dropping them as I dashed forward. Pins clicked against the lapel of my uniform where I’d dug them in.
Call it what you want, but it was easier than trying to fumble with my left.
With all of the helmets, the gas wouldn’t do that much, wouldn’t disable them, but the thick smoke would keep us safe.
A bullet came through the smog and haze and scattered off the side of my mask. A near miss. Heard Spanish calling over multiple radios as they triangulated positions with expert precision.
A second after that my ear exploded into pain. Not a miss at all. Shrapnel. It was always shrapnel. Blood dripped down the side of my head, but the beat of my heart made it pump out under pressure, painting my shoulder. Felt unreal to actually feel pain, given I’d been panicking for what felt like days at that point.
The guns turned on me all at once as I ran, having figured out, approximately, where everyone that was still up and moving was.
And I was clearly moving past them.
They didn’t need to know exactly where I was to point them in my direction, just like I didn’t need to look at me to know what they were after.
That asshole with the fucking grenades.
It was horrifying, feeling them all turn in my air sense, because I had a distant idea of what the clearing looked like. Echoed, distorted, but it’d been worse in the depths of Dauphin island. Enough that I knew where I could run and where I could hide.
Stacked tents, equipment, and weapons. A single antenna covered in generators towards the side, screens smashed to pieces from shrapnel.
And enough soldiers to kill a small town.
They’d even have enough bullets left over to kill a small god.
I felt their fingers on the trigger and I hurled myself over top of the lead square, leaving a streak of blood behind, and landed next to Colton.
“About time you joined me,” Colton said, flashing me a grin.
“The hell is this?” I asked, leaning against the metal.
“It’s a lead coffin,” Colton said. “Like what they bury heroes in.”
Sweat and blood rolled down my neck. Ears rang like a phone. My head swam and I stared at him in growing horror. “Why the hell are we here. Why did we do that?”
Colton’s reply was obliterated as the guns opened fired on the lead coffin, a cacophony of noises and breaking bullets.
In front of us, like drift wood on a beach, coffins stretched. Some lead, some marked with cuban patrol numerals. Some just half open, with soldiers being buried.
“Needed to catch my breath, my chest-”
The bullets came again, and chunks of the coffins around us erupted in bullet marks and wounds. Hot shrapnel from peeled bullets bounced towards us, and I threw them away furiously into the wind.
They were opening fire on their dead.
It send a shiver down my spine to look at them all. What on earth were they? Where had they gotten them from?
Giving up on speaking as they reloaded, Colton pointed ahead to the other side of the clearing.
To the building in the distance, dim, almost hidden, practically overgrown with vines. A dead ringer for our target building.
To make it clear, Excelsior had left a sign post; a dead soldier in front of it, cleaved in half by a broadsword.
Jabbered agitated Spanish rose above the din, muffled by helmets, communicated poorly.
Took a deep breath in. We hadn’t fucked up yet. We hadn’t failed yet.
Maybe it was my resistance.
Or, perhaps, it was simply the fact that nobody knew exactly what the other side was going to do, and we’d decided to neutralize them pre-emptively. It seemed cheap, stupid to do. Easy.
Not easy enough.
But we still didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Colton slapped the lead coffin meaningfully.
It probably had something to do with whatever hero they’d drug out of the ground. Association standard issue lead coffin.
I shook my head and pointed forward. Cover.
Colton shrugged, and held out his left hand. Three fingers.
Two fingers. One fingers, teasingly pointed up at the sky.
He pointed ahead, and then bolted up, slamming his feet against the moist ground. For a second, the ground gave, and then he lunged forward, moving through the clearing as quickly as he could.
Not a moment passed and I did the same, relinquishing my grip on the dust in the air so I could instead keep myself stable. Tripping was a death sentence, and the path was winding and narrowed.
Barely a path, more like a series of tree branches and half upturned logs. Colton scampered over them like the athletic bastard he was, and I hurled myself at them, realizing every moment was another moment when the guns could get a line at me.
Then across the surface of the bayou, I leapt ahead and slammed forward, catching myself on the leg. The shin guards dug into the surface, but momentum hauled my back up to my feet, pushing myself off the ground with a great push of air.
Just in time, because the tree next to me exploded into splinters; the soldiers finally stumbling out of the mess of gas.
Hurled myself to the side, and heard the trees eat bullets, hot puffs of smoke where they bore straight through without hesitation. Pressed myself low to the ground to avoid it, and waited, painstakingly. Colton danced ahead.
But there was nothing saying that a good trick couldn’t be repeated, so I tore another gas grenade off of my belt, slammed it down on the ground, and lurched through the smoke screen, dancing between the trees. Up the mild slope. Legs burned, ached.
But I was living, so I couldn’t complain.
“Come on, Gale, don’t get caught out,” Colton said, grinning. “Pretend it’s like tag.”
“I always got stuck being it,” I hissed back at him, staggering up the hill. He paused, hesitating at the top, and pointed far behind me.
The hair on my neck stood on end. I whirled around and caught sight of it, flying towards me like a ball of death.
Then reached out with my power and threw it to the side, sending it spinning far off into the distance. It bounced, torn out of my grip, against a tree, then landed on the path below.
Barely enough time to haul myself forward.
Maybe I hadn’t had the training Colton had, or the confidence. But I’d earned my survival reflexes on months of dealing with shit like this, months of practice with Colton and Hands.
Then I threw myself back up and hauled forward. Colton sped ahead.
Colton plowed through the remnants of the door up ahead. The door had been made of reinforced glass, but that had gone spider webbed from years of exposure, and I could hear it fall like crystal rain down upon the floor as I slid in beside him.
Gun shots greeted us as we dipped into it. The smoke and gas had finally cleared. Long holes for light to slip into, disturbing years of fungal growth and the passage of gnarled tree roots seeking shelter from the briny marsh.
Well. They knew where we were.
They knew where we’d gone.
Now it was just up to us to make sure they didn’t corner us like rats.