Chapter 106

               Things were going okay, until the building collapsed. While their situation wasn’t perfect, so far they’d managed to avoid being caught by any robots, and Hexcellent had even started running under her own power as the worst of her headache finally began to ebb. However, avoiding being caught was not the same thing as avoiding detection, and as they ducked and veered about between alleyways, the sounds of pursuit could always be heard on their tails. For possibly the first time since joining Mordent, every one of the team members were all simultaneously grateful to Mr. Greene; because without his ridiculous exercise requirements their stamina might have flagged out already. As it was, they were weary, but knowing they were only ten minutes or so from the potential safety of Mordent gave them all the energy needed to push through.

                Then, unfortunately, a three story building next to the alley they were running in tipped forward, pushed by an unseen force on the other side. Bricks and debris began to rain, the only warning they got as it started coming down. Bubble Bubble reacted quickly, instead of throwing an orb around herself, she made a series of them overhead to create a sort of canopy to protect them as they ran. It wouldn’t be enough to actually halt the building, which was already more splinters than structure, but might let them make it to the other side.

                Galvanize, by virtue of being in the lead, was already clear of the collapsing obstacle. He had halted, waiting for them, and was gesturing at Bubble Bubble frantically. At first, she thought he wanted her to hurry, so that was what she did, manifesting more orbs in front of her as she ran, trying not to think about the toll that creating so many was taking. Already, her hands were starting to shake, but she pushed through. It was only when she got closer that Bubble Bubble realized Galvanize had been pointing past her, to where she’d been running from. With a heart suddenly full of dread, Bubble Bubble looked over her shoulder.

                Hexcellent, who’d been only a step or two behind her when the collapse started, was all the way back on the other side, standing next to Huggles. Maybe she had tripped, maybe the fatigue had gotten the better of her, whatever the reason, she’d been separated. And in the chaos of trying to outrun a falling building, neither Bubble Bubble nor Zone had noticed.

                Bubble Bubble slowed her pace, turning around to try and head back, but even from this distance she could see Hexcellent shaking her head. It was too late, and they both knew it. If Bubble Bubble went back now, she’d get caught in the collapse. There was a chance that she could put an orb around herself to survive it, but the shaking in her hands was getting worse, she’d already drained so much of herself. Even if she did survive, what good would it do? By the time Bubble Bubble got out, the others would be long gone, either safe or… caught.

                There was no way to save her friend. Hexcellent was clear of the building, but they’d all heard the robots getting closer. She was trapped, and it would be a matter of minutes until they caught up to her.

                “Fuck that.” Bubble Bubble turned back around and began running toward Galvanize again, Zone right beside her. Maybe she couldn’t go back for Hexcellent, but that didn’t mean she had to stand around and let her friend die. She would get out of here, double back down the next block, and reunite with the team summoner. Hexcellent had Huggles, she could survive for a little while. Even against the robots. Hexcellent was tough. She could do it. She had to, or Bubble Bubble would never forgive herself.

                Unfortunately, they made it no further than the mouth of the alleyway before the massive shadow fell across them.

*             *             *

                It was bittersweet, watching her friends run to safety even as the sounds of robots drew closer by the second. Hexcellent wanted to see them make it. It was her own fault that she’d stepped into a loose bit of rubble and gotten her foot stuck. If she’d called out, they would have waited, helped her get free, turned the delay into five seconds, rather than ten. But she hadn’t. She’d stupidly tried to struggle free on her own, instead of counting on the people around her, and it had cost her a chance at safe passage. That was her mistake, though. She’d be damned if she let Bubble Bubble try and pay the price for her, which was why Hexcellent waved her off. It would be a comforting thought, she hoped, to at least know her friends made it out safely.

                Heavy steps in the center of the alley revealed three robots, these built like the ones she’d seen on television during the previous attacks. Their eyes glowed as they assessed her, though the sword-armed demon a few feet closer naturally drew more attention. There was no need for blustering, the situation had all its context laid out openly before them. Kill, or be killed.

                “Slice ‘em up, Huggles.” The demon lunged forward, taking a wide swing with both of its arms. The robots stepped nimbly aside, but Huggles was faster than it looked, and pressed the attack. One of those arms made it through the torso of a robot, and Hexcellent was about to let out a whoop of joy. However, it morphed into a cry of pain midway up her throat, as the other two robots used the opportunity to forcibly tear Huggles’ head from its shoulders until it dissolved back into smoke.

                As she released a dull, half-choked whimper, Hexcellent fell hard to the ground, though in comparison to the pain in her head the impact barely registered. Her vision was nothing but static and spots, and she was pretty sure blood was pouring from her nose. Every nerve in her body felt like it was on fire. She tried to take refuge in the fact that the pain probably wouldn’t last too long. After all, she was about to die.

                Despite what she’d expected, that thought provided no comfort at all, it only made things worse. She didn’t want the pain to end. She didn’t want to die. She wasn’t done yet, wasn’t ready to walk out of the world. How many years had she pissed away? And only now, when things were getting good, was she going to get killed. It sucked. Hexcellent tried to get angry, to force herself to rise from the ground and die on her feet. All she managed was to tilt her head slightly upward, providing a view of the approaching mechanical legs.

                As fury failed her, fear set in. This was it. There was no last rally in her, and the Heroes were scattered. This was how she died. She wished Spyda was here, to whisper kindly with his poorly hidden accent. Or her team, to remind her that she’d managed to make a few friends in the world. Or Titan, though of course if he were here she wouldn’t actually be in danger, now would she? But they weren’t. Hexcellent… no, Hannah, was going to die alone, in the streets of Brewster, and that was what scared her most of all.

                The fear stripped away her mental armor, all the defensiveness and walls she’d spent a lifetime building, and as she curled up on the concrete, waiting for the end to come, she felt the terror wash over her in a way she hadn’t since childhood. She wasn’t a corpie, or a Super, she was just a helpless person afraid of the approaching unknown, the coming darkness, wishing with all her might there was at least someone else there to hold her hand. Somewhere, in the deepest part of her mind, a familiar presence not felt in decades finally stirred.

                Hexcellent’s body spasmed, something like a seizure causing her to convulse violently. Her consciousness slipped away, a mercy as it finally separated her from the pain, which was growing even more intense. Above her, the robots stared at the sudden thrashing, unsure of what to make of it. They were so focused on her, in fact, that neither saw the massive, furry, elongated foot as it slammed down on top of them, grinding both to scraps.

                A soft paw reached down from the sky, delicately scooping Hexcellent’s battered, but not yet broken, body into its grip. Though still unconscious, she nuzzled into the fur, and let out a small, peaceful, sigh.