They didn’t have to wait long. And they were in luck—this particular villain must not have a healthy cash of bladers to draw from, as the same athletic, boyish older woman challenged them once more, this time blatantly in public view as the group had been…well, making targets of themselves for her. Even so, none of them had expected her to walk up to them on a busy sidewalk next to an equally busy intersection.
People instinctively made room as she brandished her launcher like a gun, a hand on one narrow, bony hip, and a confident smirk Kai always thought looked horrible on anyone but himself.
“How about this,” she said over the noise of passing cars. “Since I know you won’t just hand over the beasts, if one of you can push my blade into the street, I’ll give you back Dragoon.”
And just to back up her point, she pulled out the blue, stormy tennis ball-sized marble from before. It gleamed in the foggy sunlight. The storm from the night before had yet to clear the skies completely.
Kai nodded to the other two, but it was Max who stepped up. Nothing playful or kind crossed his face as he pointed his launcher at her.
“I’ll shove your blade under a car,” he said. “And this time your stupid trick won’t work.”
She plucked her blade from its pouch and clicked it on, swinging to rest on her other hip as she did so. “If it weren’t completely illegal, I’d say you’re absolutely adorable when you’re determined.”
Max bared his teeth, freckles scrunching up his nose by the force of his scowl. “No one hurts my friends and gets away with it!”
The moment he snapped on Draciel, he started the countdown, not even caring to wait for her to be ready.
“Let it rip!”
Kenny barely had the time to drop against the nearby shop wall and snap open his laptop. Ray jumped to his side as the crowd scrambled out of reach of the whirring blades that could easily take off their legs. Car horns blared as bodies accidentally fell into the street.
Kai, ever cool, stood his ground, his eyes to the rooftops.
“I’m rolling, Chief! But the infrareds won’t work here, there are too many people!”
“She couldn’t do everything we expected her to,” said Ray, hands fisted to his sides. “Best you get your earplugs in too, Chief.”
With a little ‘eep!’ Kenny whipped out the earplugs from his pocket and proceeded to stuff them into his ears.
Kai took that chance to put his in as well. He hated dulling his senses, and he had waited till the last moment to put them in. Luckily, Max had not done the same, and he could see the neon orange spots of foam peeking out from his blond hair.
“Draciel!” He cried. “Show her no mercy! Haul her into the street!”
The spinning blur of purple nearly hissed as it thudded itself against the other gray-blue blade, which, unlike before, was shoved back with a small shower of concrete. People were beginning to make a circle about them, their alarm giving way to curiosity. If he didn’t have his earplugs in, Kai knew he would have probably heard their names murmured about as the world champions were recognized.
It was no use keeping his eyes to the battle. He kept them to the rooftops. Ray would watch the ground. Though Kai felt uneasy with their audience. None of them had expected there to be a crowd. There could be casualties.
It happened right as he glanced down to meet the woman’s gaze, which wasn’t to Max or the battle, but to him. She gave him a smile that curled back her thin cheeks. She had big, horse-like teeth. Strong teeth.
“Ayah!” he read her lips say.
Kai snapped his head back to the roofs.
But he didn’t see the singer until he heard her, despite the ear plugs.
The voice sounded as it had before, distinctly earthy and rich. But this time, instead of the high keen of a violin’s string being shaken out of its life, it was a low treble that hummed a breath from his chest. At the same moment his eyes saw her, gray hoodie blended into the off-white siding of the next building, he knew the ear plugs wouldn’t work. This was a noise felt, not just heard.
But he was moving, all legs, all flight, flinging himself through and over the battle. The girl vanished behind the bodies he shoved through, tucking herself behind a dumpster. As he flung the last person aside, he caught a glimpse of her pale mouth opened up to the sky like a baby bird’s waiting for food.
Just as his hands reached for her, she ducked. He caught himself against the dumpster with a bang, already flinging his arm back for her. She once more ducked, then jumped to the side from another fist. This surprised him. Not even Ray could completely dodge him. Block him, yes, but she moved as though knowing where he’d hit.
He barely caught the crowd’s gasp through his ear plugs. For just a flash of a second, Kai was distracted. The woman would be coming through here—or to the street—no here she came—
It was a second too long. The grey hoodie figure sped down the small space between the buildings, vaulting over the fence at the other end. Kai made a split second decision and dove back into the crowd, catching the woman’s wrist as she passed. She turned on him, snarling. There was a flash of pain across his face and he let go of her in shock. Blood was filling his eye.
He plucked out his earplugs just in time to hear: “Oh my god, Max!”
Screaming. People had started to scream. Hands reached out for him, and he slapped at them, skin crawling with bad memories. He had to get to his team—had to get to the girl—no, get to Kenny. Kenny would have the answers, Kenny had the camera.
The crowd parted before him easily now. He wondered just how grisly a sight he must make, half blinded by blood. What had she done to him?
Kenny and Ray clutched to either side of Max, whose head hung almost to his navel. Kai’s foot landed on something that sparked in the pavement and he picked up Max’s blade in its final rotations.
The bit was a blank, empty yellow.