This entry contains discussions, mentions, and descriptions of dark and triggering topics such as firearm usage, violence, and death.
Reader discretion advised.
The sisters continued down the final stretch of road in silence, spurred on by their proximity to their uncle’s last known location. They were nearly sixty meters from Trade Street when orange flames erupted before them, causing both scouts to jump back in surprise. Lori raised her gun as the flames began to subside and the heads of three young men she didn’t recognize became visible, only for Lizzie to hold her hand out to her sister.
“No, don’t!” she whisper-shouted. “They’re Phebeans!”
Her elder sister’s frowning face and tense stance relaxed as the flames snuffed themselves out on the asphalt, and a fourth demon emerged from the group, relief evident on her face.
“Lizzie, Lori! Thank the gods!” gushed Gabby in a hushed tone.
The Peters sisters joined the demons, eager to remain as quiet as possible. I hope no one saw that–a bonfire in the middle of the road is pretty noticeable, Lizzie thought to herself.
“There’s no one on this street except us,” Gabby answered the human’s unspoken concerns, her eyes shining violet. Then she addressed Lori. “And, yeah, the boys and I are linked up. I can’t speak into your minds, but I’ll still be able to hear if you need help, so call out to me with your thoughts if you need one of us.”
Gavin, Kent, and Tripp were the boys in question; Gabby’s older brother hugged Lizzie tightly, eliciting a weird look from Lori. She frowned at her older sister. What’s her problem?
“I’m so glad you’re okay!” he muttered by her ear, his warm breath against her cold flesh sending shivers down her spine. When he pulled away, she locked onto his hazel gaze and felt warmth flood her cheeks. “Tawni and Gabby told us what was going on, and Dane brought everyone to help.”
Lizzie blinked, his words registering. “Wait, everyone?”
Gavin nodded, releasing her just as Kent took his place, though the elder demon’s embrace was far shorter. “Everyone, including the Jovians that were loaned to us. Dane and everyone are helping out in Nashville since they couldn’t save enough captives before the ambush.”
Lizzie gasped. “Ambush? What ambush? What happened? Is Monty okay–?”
“Good going, idiot,” grumbled Kent from between the teenage demons before sighing. “Liz, don’t worry, okay? Last we heard, all the Jovians were still alive. Maggie and Hank, too.”
The sisters were noticeably relieved; Lizzie caught Lori let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding in. “Thank you. Catch us up to speed, please.”
Kent relayed the events of the past half hour to the scouts; the ambush from St. Louis that Benji suspected came at the behest of the Charlotte messengers, implying first that they had noticed the Charlotte squad, and second that the bandits had communication technology at their disposal; the many lives of scouts lost trying to save the Nashville captives; the news that only twenty-five hostages had been rescued before the bandit blockade at the market entrance prevented Cienna from completing her mission; and finally, Monty’s scheme to have Cienna and Tawni protect the scouts and captives while he, Benji, and the remaining angels surround the stadium where the captives are being held, fending off bandits while Christian ported the remaining hostages to safety.
Monty’s plan isn’t far from mine and Lori’s, she realized with a half-smirk. It’s funny how similarly we think…
“So where are the angels you had, and the rest of your tribe?” asked Lori, jarring Lizzie from her thoughts.
“Nat, Sal, Sam, and Gordon are helping Tawni and Cienna protect the hostages as they’re saved,” explained Kent.
“And I left Dane and the rest of our tribe with Prince Monty before we came to Charlotte,” reported Tripp. Lizzie had never properly met him before and was shocked to hear such a young voice coming from the Phebean teleporter. He sounds as young as Gavin–and I can’t place his accent. Where’s he from? “We gave Matteo all this information just a few minutes ago. Then Chris and I helped Remiel with the last hostages before Chris ported them to Atlanta.”
“Chris and Remiel are in Nashville now,” Gavin concluded.
The sisters shared wary glances. The demons had shared wondrous news–with the younger Jovian porter and the speedster off in Nashville, their mission would be complete in no time. Which begged the question: what was this group of Phebeans doing here?
“We’re here to help,” Gabby expressed, a small smile on her face. The others nodded in agreement behind her. “We’re here to make sure that you both get home safely–whatever goes down with your uncle, no one else needs to know. We won’t get in your way, but we’ll watch your backs.”
Lizzie relaxed somewhat in the presence of her friends and their beaming faces. When it was just her and Lori, she was certain that one or both of them wouldn’t make it back. At least with the demons, they’d have a chance. “Thanks, guys. But stay away from Clyde. He’s dangerous.”
“And tell us what y’all can do,” demanded Lori, already formulating a plan.
Kent glanced over his shoulder toward Trade Street before answering. “Gav and I can generate flames–mine are blue, his are red. He can also control the heat around him. Tripp can teleport, but he can also control the flames he generates to an extent; he can make it so they actually burn and spread in the environment. Gabby can read thoughts and generate pink flames using her mind, but she can’t control them too much once they’re out there. I can control everyone’s flames in case they get out of control.”
Lizzie’s eyes were wide as she regarded the young demons before her. “Whoa.”
“Buncha firestarters, huh?” mused Lori with a smirk. “Hell yeah. We can use that.”
Then the elder sister turned toward the psychic. “Gab, are there any innocents in there? Or is it just bandits?”
Gabby appeared ready for this question. “Just bandits. They’re all kind of spread out, but you’ll find most of them in the arena.”
When the Peters girls stared at the young teen questioningly, she offered them an apologetic smile and pointed at the large building at the corner of the following intersection. “You’ll know what I mean when we get there. The center’s like a big bowl, it’s got a stage and a bunch of seats. You could probably ignore the arena altogether, though, if you want.”
“Why’s that?” asked Lizzie.
“ ‘Cause Clyde isn’t there,” she revealed. “He’s in the attached hotel–the one at that corner. He kept switching between the top two floors before, but now he’s settled by the–”
Suddenly, the psychic’s eyes widened, and all the color escaped her face. “Duck.”
Lori frowned. “By the du–?”
Lori’s words were drowned out; first by the sound of a gunshot, and then by the sound of her crying out in pain. Her right hand flew to the left side of her chest as she was thrown backwards, the force of the bullet causing her to spin counter-clockwise on her way down. Lizzie moved to catch her before she fell, but Tripp was faster. He caught her in his arms and teleported the scout behind a nearby building.
“MOVE!” Kent shouted at those still on the street.
Gabby was on his tail, while Gavin had hoisted Lizzie in his arms and ran with her. She was somewhat accustomed to this–after all, spirits moved faster than the average human, so her missions with Monty usually involved him carrying her around in order to save them time.
“I shoulda brought a damn rifle,” she muttered so that only Gavin could hear. “Can’t snipe his crusty ass with this shit…”
He snickered at her grumblings and set her on her feet beside Lori’s body. The elder scout was sucking in sharp breaths and clutching not her chest, as Lizzie had initially thought, but her shoulder. This was a relief to the younger sister, who immediately pulled out a small flashlight and shined it on the wound.
“Looks like it,” Kent let out a sigh. “Gav, you’re gonna have to do it.”
Gavin frowned. “Seriously? Like she doesn’t hate me enough?”
“My fire is too hot–I’ll do some serious damage. And Gab and Tripp can’t control their shit like we can. So it’s on you.”
“What the hell are you dumbasses talkin’ bout?” groaned Lori.
“Cauterizing the wound,” they both said in unison.
Lizzie’s heart sped up as she glared at the pair of pyro demons. “You outta your goddamn minds?! You don’t cauterize a fuckin’ gunshot wound!”
They shared uneasy glances. “You don’t?” asked Kent.
“No!” she reiterated.
“But that’s what they do in movies–” Gavin began, only for Lori to let out an aggravated huff.
“Jesus H. Fuckin’ Christ, Liz, just wrap me up so we can kill that stupid sum’bitch ‘fore I strangle these dumb fuckin’ kids!” she hollered.
“Yeah, yeah,” Lizzie grumbled, already pulling her shirt over her head and tearing it into pieces. “Don’t mind her, getting shot makes her bitchy.”
Gabby and Tripp helped Lori sit up while Lizzie wrapped the strips of cloth over her shoulder and under her arm, positioned perfectly over the wound and wrapped firmly enough to prevent infection. “Alright, that should do it.”
The demons on either side of her helped Lori to stand; once on her feet, the elder human squared her shoulders, wincing at the pain. “Fuck! That asshole must be drunk,” she hissed and pulled her gun from its holster. “He missed.”
Gavin cocked an eyebrow. “Missed? He hit you–”
“He was aiming for her heart, genius,” Kent said with a troubled expression.
Gavin’s frown deepened. “Oh.”
“So,” Lizzie began, bringing everyone’s attention back to the matter at hand. “Lori, while you were takin’ your lil’ rest–”
“–Did you think up a plan?” finished Lizzie, ignoring her sister.
“I did,” Lori whispered. She checked her pistol’s magazine before slamming it back into her handgun. Her eyes passed over her actions, but Lizzie could tell that she wasn’t actually seeing what she was doing. Her body was relying on instinct and muscle memory, while her mind was doing the bare minimum to get her words out. “Gab, Tripp, an’ Gav port to the middle of the arena an’ set as much as they can on fire–Gav lights up everythin’ ‘round ‘em, Gab sets fire to the exits, an’ Tripp ports ‘em both out an’ to the first floor of the hotel while making sure his flames burn up whatever they can. Meanwhile, you, Kent, an’ I’ll make our way up the hotel. Ain’t no way they’re wastin’ gas to generate enough power for the elevators, so our only way up’s the stairs. Once they’re back in the building, the guys’ll cover Gab while she crosses the street to set fire to the top two floors, then she can work her way down one floor atta time. That’ll force Clyde to the stairs an’ down to us.”
The Phebeans weren’t expecting Lori to have concocted a plan while dealing with the pain of a bullet. “And when we confront Clyde?” asked Kent.
“You’ll set fire to everythin’ behind him so he can’t run, an’ I’ll kill ‘im.”
Gavin rubbed the back of his neck. “You just got shot, Lori. Maybe you should–”
“Shut up, dickweed,” Lori spat out. “This my fight–I’m takin’ him out. Not you, not Liz, not nobody but me. Shut your mouth an’ do as your told, or I’mma let Monty in on that crush you got on his girl.”
Lizzie bristled at Lori’s accusation. “What the fuck, Lor?! Don’t threaten Gavin with something like that, especially when it ain’t true. We’re just friends!”
Then she turned toward her first friend in the colony. “Tell her, Gav–”
Her words caught in her throat as butterflies fluttered around in her abdomen. Her russet eyes were wide as she took in the younger teen’s aura. His normally vibrant vermillion with golden stripes had given way to a pink cloud that shifted between bright and dark shades.
A strained silence weighed on their group for a moment before Gavin, who had spent the entirety of that moment with his eyes averted from Lizzie’s let out a despondent sigh.
“Let’s go. We’ll meet you guys at the hotel. Call out to Gab if you need us.”
Then Gavin Moore marched off without so much as a goodbye.
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