Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 18

Posted: N/A

Rex fired an icy glare back at the two girls while taking a deep breath in an attempt to let go of the embarrassment he was feeling. Finally, he turned his attention to those in the back. "As you just heard, it looks like Josh's team got hit earlier than expected."

He paused as he saw a great deal of unease cross over the faces of the others. "Guys, I'm worried about them too, but this could work to our advantage. As long as Josh's group holds the line and continues to push toward the lodge, they will force those we are facing to send more forces out, which will let us get to the hostages easier.

"On the other hand we need to hit them hard and fast, so we can take some pressure off Josh and the others. To this end, I am going to take Colt, Garret, Gustav and Ricky in. The others will stay out here and cover the hostages and support Josh's team."

Rex cracked his knuckles as he continued to talk. "Guys, we are going in there hard. We can't hesitate once we identify a hostile. We drop them without remorse. There will be time to talk about what we did and how we did it later. For now, I want Ricky to stick with Garret and Gustav to cover Colt. Colt, you and Ricky are ranged guys, you need to take out enemy ranged guys. Garret, you and Gustav both have awesome close up skills. Very few Augments have the type of toughness to handle either of you. Get in their faces and drop them before they get a chance to do anything to you.

"I'll cover both groups and deal with anyone who manages to stand up to what you all dish out. Colt, you need to listen, cause if we run into someone really tough, your lightning is our strongest attack, and unless someone has some kind of god-like electrical immunity, you'll drop 'em."

He turned and stared at Garret, making sure he had the younger boy's full attention, "And you… We all know you have a big bang, but if it starts to come out, bite it back. We don't know what exactly it does and it could very well wipe you out. Almost as bad, if it is even half as big and bad as we all think it is, chances are high you will kill hostages behind and maybe even to the side of what you are aiming at. Just keep it in check a bit longer..." He managed a tight smile. "Out on the street, when I was able to talk you down, the excess seemed to flow into your power fists. So, if you feel it coming out, try to direct some of the flow to those blue globs of yours and beat the tar out of whoever made you mad."

Garret managed a nod. "OK, but what if I can't stop it?"

"Then blow out a wall or three," Ajax responded, "At least you will not kill a… captif… um...prisoner… and may give some a new exit to run away."

"Agreed," Rex stated emphatically, "But you have pulled it back a couple of times so you can do it. Just don't let anger or fear get the best of you. Trust me, AT and Jade Witch will take you out somewhere away from everyone and everything and teach you what it is, how to use it, how to control it, and how to cope with what it will do to you. Until then, just hold it in check."

"I'll do my best."

"You will be fine," Gustav encouraged while patting Garret on the shoulder. "If you get really mad, smack whoever it is to me and I'll put them through a wall with the staff Valda made for me."

Garret managed to grin. "Thanks but I'd prefer to pound them into and through the floor myself."

As Colt snickered at the comment, Rex tossed everyone a pair of MREs. He ripped one open for himself and poured the contests of the 'chicken-a-la-king' down his throat before speaking in a harsh commanding tone. "We are about to use everything we got. Hungry or not, eat, cause we're gunna need every ounce of energy we can find!"

Cassie interrupted Rex. "Radar has two flyers; it looks like they just exited the lodge!"

"Heading toward us?" Rex asked as he extended his claws.

"No, toward the other snow cat. It just started moving again. It doesn't look like they even noticed us yet."

"They will," Kurt promised as he sucked the peanut butter out of a package in the first MRE tossed to him. His eyes seemed to harden as he added, "And if I have anything to say about it, they won't like it."

At the same instant Kurt was finishing off the peanut butter form his MRE, the COBRA was in the back of the other snow cat doing the exact same thing. He dropped the packaging of his second MRE on the floor and accepted a third Meal, Ready-to-Eat. He eyed Tanner. "It's not like I'm complaining, but I don't get it. Where is your squadron commanders and why are COUGARS in here without their RLD adults?"

Reed spoke up from behind the controls. "The attacks are widespread and we're pretty sure they were a distraction to pull all USDT and RLD forces away from this area. BEARS 97 cadets were the only resources left in this whole county. They rescued one of us, and we were the closest non-engaged force close enough to support. We just got here this morning and this is already our second fight."

"Well, thanks. My whole attitude about RLD has suddenly changed."

Reed frowned, "Yeah, well, RLD isn't USDT, and our government isn't as anxious about wanting to get into a fight as yours is, but we damned sure aren't afraid of a fight."

The kid held up his hands. "Hey, no insult intended . I just never thought RLD would ever let a COUGAR get activated. We did a joint camp with a Vancouver squadron last spring break, and they weren't allowed to have or do half of what we are."

"Canada doesn't like to fork over millions of dollars in damages done by cadets like the US seems to do," Reed explained with an underlying tone of frustration. "As a matter of fact our orders were to be back up only because they don't want to us on full-throttle, but your government has assured our XO they will be picking up any and all bills so she has taken our gloves off.

"Quill basically told us the term 'being back-up only' means we don't get to start any fights. We are letting you all take the first swings. After it starts, however, it's on and so are we. Still, we are going to try to make it look good and hang back enough to where they can't say we instigated anything."

"Speaking of which, it looks like we have been spotted. Radar has two flyers just coming out of the lodge and are heading right toward us."

The COBRA stood. "OK, so we take the lead."

"Nope, you need time to recover. Besides, you already started this round, so let us and our fellow BEARS deal with this." He reached down and grabbed his radio. "Rach, we have two incoming air raiders."

The response was instantaneous. "Josh and Skye just dropped the woman and the kid, but the woman had a walkie-talkie, so the whole place probably knows we are out here. The more we pull off the others the better. Bring them back toward us. We'll be ready!"

"You got it, sis!" Reed stated as he slammed on the brakes and shoved the snow cat into reverse.

A few seconds later the window spider webbed as a concentrated burst of ice slammed into the bulletproof glass. Reed glanced back at the COBRA with a smirk. "I sure hope USDT will cover damage to our vehicles, because something tells me this hunk of metal will not look nearly as nice and shiny after this!"

The attack of the lead flyer was short-lived. As the man dove on the snow cat for a second attack, Logan dropped down from a limb, hanging by his legs, his knees bent around the thick branch.

Before the man even realized the danger, Logan swung one of his gloom blades with practiced precision. The strike took the man's right wing clean off, right above the shoulder. The man's panic and pain filled scream ended with a sickening crunching sound as he spun out of control and into a tree.

The second flyer saw Logan and angled toward him. As the teen girl lined up to unleash her steam breath on the upside-down boy in front of her, Rachal landed on her back.

The teen reacted quickly, first trying to first spin and throw Rachal off, then angling up toward tree branches to knock her off, but nothing she tried succeeded to cause so much as a slip. Finally she angled straight toward Logan, hoping a collision with the upside-down kid would finally dislodge the girl, who continued to punch, finger nail gouge, and bite her.

Rachal waited until she was only a few yards from Logan. Finally she wrapped her legs around the waist of the older girl, cupped her hands around the teenager's ears, and unleashed her force push. The condensed concussion waves blew out both eardrums and knocked the teen cold.

Logan grabbed Rachal's outstretched hand as the attacker fell out of the sky like a brick. Using his heightened strength, he easily tossed her up to a branch above while spinning to right himself.

Rachal took a moment to use her own amazing climbing ability to grab the branch and scramble to the trunk. At the same time she watched with some degree of satisfaction as the unconscious body of the older girl she had taken out disappeared into the deep snow over forty feet below.

She once again grabbed her radio. "You can call off the air raid alert, Reed, but I have half a dozen more moving through the snow toward you; keep backing up. We'll set up the ambush and then you can help pound them!"

"Great work, Rach!"

Rachal shot Logan a smile. "Maybe you're right."

Logan moved down the branch and joined Rachal at the trunk. As they started to climb down he looked over quizzically, "About what?"

"Maybe we would make a good dance pair. You caught me perfectly!"

Logan snickered. "I'll dance with you any time. It was almost like I knew what you were going to do. We make a great team!"

Less than a quarter of a mile away, Cassie glanced back at the Radar. "The flyers just disappeared."

Rex shoved the side door open and pointed at the back of the lodge, and a satisfied smirk crossed his lips. "Now it's our turn!" He glanced back to Garret. "Would you care to knock for us?"

"Sure!" Garret stated as he jumped out while making his fists glow again. He walked up to the back door and slammed his fist into it with everything he had. It blew inwards with a colossal crash, as his combined strength and fist augmentation ripped it clean off the frame with a single blow.

He glared at the man on the other side holding a pistol, who was looking at him with a shocked expression.

Before the man could even point the gun at Garret, Gustav jumped in and swung the staff, breaking the sound barrier as he did so. Windows shattered as the blow connected. The force of the impact also launched the totally unprepared man into and completely through the wall twenty feet behind him.

Moments later Colt and Ricky entered. Ricky turned to the right and fired off a pair of light beams, striking an older boy with a shotgun coming down the stairs, knocking him down.

Colt glanced to the left and instantly spotted a girl with a swirling pink aura around her. Not giving her a chance to do anything, he sent a steam of electricity at her. His first strike was not enough to drop her, so he extended his other hand and duplicated the initial strike. This time the swirling mass around the girl literally vaporized. She fell only moments later, twitching, with sparks flickering over her the braces in her mouth.

Garret took the lead, using his shield to defect a ray of brown-colored energy fired at him from a guy behind a couch. Before the man could move to find better cover, Garret moved up and kicked the heavy piece of furniture with enough force to send the couch and the guy behind it into the wall. He started to close on the balding guy, but stopped as he noticed the guy's eyes had rolled up in his head and he already had blood leaking out of the side of his mouth.

Off to the side twenty-nine men, women, and children watched with wide eyes as the five boys literally tore though those holding them captive before the second hand on the old clock behind counter had made it halfway around a single pass.

Garret moved up on the group and looked down as he spotted a classmate. "Brock?"

The eleven year old looked up with wide eyes, "Garret? What are you doing here?"

Garret pulled on the plastic zip strip holding the boy's hands behind his back, snapping it like it was made out of paper. "USDT activated us; we're here to get you all out." He then pulled the boy to his feet and looked him over. "Your eye is really swollen; are you OK?

Brock touched his badly blackened eye, wincing badly. "Mom told me to run, but the kid over there," he pointed at the kid Ricky had knocked down on the steps, "grabbed me with some kind of phantom hand and hit me. It hurts… But thanks to you, I'll live."

Brock blinked out a couple of tears forming at the corner of his non-swollen eye. "They took those who gave them the most problems upstairs. They still have my mom and a bunch of others including Killian from our class upstairs, and there is another group up front!"

One man spoke up from the middle of the group. "And one of the women who attacked us pointed out some others and they took them somewhere else. One was my daughter... She's... well, I think she is one of you..."

Rex moved up, held out a finger and with a single flipping motion sliced though the zip ties holding Brock's legs together. "Sounds like they have an Augment detector. She will have to fall fast if we find her since they are almost always power mimics too. Which way did they take them?"

Brock pointed to a hall. "They went down there, but we felt cold air, so we think they took them outside."

Rex made and angry sounding snarl. "We'll have to go after them once we get the rest of you all out of here." Looking at Brock's eye he shook his head; Rex's voice tone took on even more irritation. "Ricky, see what you can do for his eye."

Ricky moved up and held his hand out. Seeing the kid cringe, he backed off. "I can help. You'll feel some warm tingling, but it won't hurt."

Garret turned to Brock with some aggravation in his voice. "We didn't bust in here and risk our lives to get you out only to hurt you; just trust us for once."

Brock took a deep breath and nodded. Within mere seconds, Ricky stepped back while Brock touched his face with a great degree of astonishment. "Wow! You fixed it!"

Ricky grinned. "It was only a bruise; I can fix those fast."

"How do I get a hold of you the next time I am hurt?"

Rex raised an eyebrow showing some surprise at the reaction. Still, he didn't have time for any discussion and he knew it. "We'll get you a number to contact us later. For now, head out the way we came in. We have friends out at a snow cat only a few yards outside. They will guard and protect you all. We'll try to free the others!"

He turned away from Brock and looked at those he had assaulted the building with. "Guys, we have to split up and fast. They had to have heard us and we can't let them harm any hostages if we can prevent it! Garret, Ricky, you have upstairs. Colt, Gustav, you have the front. I'll cut the rest loose and move to where it sounds the worst!"

Garret nodded his understanding and ran up the steps, pausing just long enough to spit on the teen Ricky had knocked down on the stairs. "Keep your hands and powers off my classmates!"

The kid looked up, only to see Garret's fist turn blue and descend toward his face. The single blow was enough to end the kid's attempt to stand back up, while also causing a pair of the steps to crack.

At the same time Colt and Gustav rushed through the hole left by the guy Gustav had put through the wall.

Rex quickly cut the plastic ties off the others as fighting intensified up front. He pointed out through what was left of the shattered door frame. "Get out of here. I have to go help the others!"

As Rex leapt though the same hole in the wall Colt had gone through, Brock paused as he watched the others run out the back. He chewed on his lip for a moment before shaking his head. With his heart pounding in his chest, he moved up to what was left of the teen on the steps.

He knelt, picked up the shotgun and checked the chamber. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the small bandolier of extra shells lying next to the unconscious kid, slung them over his shoulder, and started to move up the stairs.

From the shattered remains of the door his father looked back, "What are you doing?"

"We can't let them do this alone!"

"Son, forget them! They are freaks!"

Anger and a bit of disgust crept into Brock's voice as he turned. "So you keep saying, Dad, but they just risked their lives to save ours! There are at least seven of them up there against those two and they even took time to fix my eye! Besides, Garret is in my class. None of us have been even slightly nice to him, but here he is…" He stopped realizing his pleas were falling on deaf ears.

Brock's anger mounted as did his tone. He looked right into his dad's eyes while his voice took on a pitch showing he had just lost a great deal of respect for his own father. He quickly pumped in a round into the empty chamber of the shotgun. "You may be willing to let them risk their lives to save mom and the others without trying to help, but I'm not. You can ground me later."

With a large exhale and a rather shocked look, Brock's dad moved back inside and over to where the man Gustav had taken out had dropped the pistol. He picked up the .357 and verified it held six rounds. "They are a bunch of freaks! Now, get your butt back here before I…"

As he turned, he realized his words had not been heard as his son had already headed up the stairs, totally ignoring him.

Up front, another thunderous clap exploded more widows outward as Gustav broke the sound barrier with his staff again, this time putting a long dark haired female, whom he clearly recognized, into and through the front desk. The concussion wave also knocked over three others rushing to intercept him and Colt.

As he turned to face those he had knocked down, he heard the desk behind him shift. Before he could even get fully turned around, the woman stood, blood running down from a nasty gash over her left eye, and spoke with a venomous hiss. "Bad move Thunder Strike. You and your new friends are good as dead!"

"Colt, put up your armor!" Gustav screamed as he moved to stand between the woman and Colt. He then turned to face her. "I'm not one of your toys, Seizure!" Gustav snarled as he cupped his hand and threw a small ball of fire at the woman.

At the same time, she unleashed a nasty blackish cone of energy from her mouth.

Colt clenched his fists, bringing up his electrical armor, and turned. He watched in horror as both Gustav and the woman screamed and fell, Gustav convulsing uncontrollably and the woman's hair on fire. His eyes went wide as he realized Gustav had purposefully gotten in the way, blocking the black energy from hitting him, giving him the extra time needed to bring up his newest augmentation.

Before Colt could fully process the fact Gustav had saved him, Rex pounced, leaping over the desk and slamming his extended claws of his left hand deep into the right side of the thrashing woman. At the same time, he hurled a desk lamp at a kid slightly younger than him who had moved up on Colt. The lamp caught the kid square in the gut, knocking him back a full ten feet and dropping him as ribs broke and air rushed out of the kid's lungs.

Across the lobby a large group of hostages huddled and more than a few let out terrified shrieks and gasps upon seeing a very powerfully built man with torrents of black mist churning around him. He looked at the remaining three teens who were with him and pointed to the hostages. "Kill them! Magno-hover and I will take care of those two!"

While Rex moved to intercept the man, the younger of the teens spoke up. "We can't just kill them!"

The man growled, "Air Magus, you will or I swear to you, I will give you to Dark Raven or the boss himself!"

The thirteen-year-old turned pale but still shook his head, "Down Draft, we can't…"

The man held out his hands and sent an extremely powerful gust of wind at Rex, pushing him back several feet, but not knocking him over. A hint of uncertainty flickered across the man's face as he fired a glance over to the girl. "Komodo, deal with Magus. Jet, purge this room of those of the lower race! At least this way USDT will get a bad name for losing a bunch of annoying Normals!"

Barely able to move, let alone talk, Gustav puked, then managed to lift his head slightly. With a quaking voice filled with pain, he managed to gasp out, "Air… you aren't… one… of… them… Help us!"

Across the room a man in his early twenties flipped his wrist and snapped his fingers on his right hand. Instantly all the metal objects littering the floor around the shattered desk lifted off the ground, aligned themselves so they all pointed the same direction, started spinning, then launched toward Gustav.

The young teen Gustav had spoken to raised his arms. With a forceful shoving motion, he thrust has arms out while extending all ten fingers as wide as they could go. Air seemed to get sucked out of the whole area making breathing difficult for everyone within twenty feet of the boy for a couple of seconds. At the same time, all the items spinning toward Gustav bounced off an invisible barrier of wind.

The slightly older girl spun on the boy and extended sharp barbed claws. "Traitor!"

Rage filled Colt. He extended one hand at the girl and the other at the boy who had moved toward the mass of hostages. Arcs of electrical energy hurled through the air striking both of them. At the same time he spoke, his voice dripping with fury. "If you are really Gustav's friend, join us!"

The kid glanced at Gustav, closed his eyes, and nodded. He then pointed to the girl referred to as Komodo. "All right, but if she gets loose she will breathe an acid cloud of digestive juices over these people!"

The apparition of Ajax appeared in the room. "Not this time! Colt, let her go and take out Magno-hover before he uses every bit of iron in this building against us! He is one of the boss' main guys!" He pointed at the man who had just tried to finish off Gustav. Ajax then turned to the girl, "Hey Komodo, let's play!"

The girl spun to face Ajax and braced. "Your shadow form light rays are nothing. They won't even knock me back half a step! Hell, I'll catch them and laugh at you!"

A rather sinister glint flashed into Ajax's eyes. "Who said anything about light rays or ghost form? Here, catch this!" Knowing how much pain he would experience didn't deter him in the slightest. He extended his arms and cupped his hands. Tears of agony rolled down his cheeks as he let loose with the most powerful heat ray he could force through his phantom form.

Komodo showed incredible reflexes as her hand came up to block the beam, but she got way more than she expected. The ray burned though her winter glove, igniting it and continued on into and though her thick scaly hand. Bones super-heated and shattered, making a series of popping popcorn sounds as they did so. Still the high-intensity heat beam continued on, striking her chest, setting her coat on fire and finally melting a half-dozen scales just below her left collarbone. She hissed in agony, showing a forked tongue and sharp reptilian teeth. Even as her remaining good hand tried to smack at the terrible burning sensation, she let loose with a stream of acidic breath wrongly thinking she was looking at Ajax, not his image. It went right through his projection, splattering on the wall, easily eating though the plasterboard and one of the wooden supports behind it.

Even though he was fighting a wave of nausea from the unleashing of his most powerful augmentation though his projected image, a hint of a smirk played across his face. "Bad guess! Magus, finish her before she can force another breath!"

The thirteen year old turned, extended his arms and clapped. Once again air was pulled out of the surrounding area. Only this time, it condensed and formed a visible effect, picking up bits and pieces of debris and dust. The air took a few moments to fully form before it launched forward with a deafening bang, much louder than the average gunshot.

In the twelve feet between him and Komodo, the bolt picked up speed to well over Mach two. It then struck the badly wounded girl and exploded with a massive cracking sound. The effects were devastating. The girl was hurled backwards with enough force to put her through the outer brick wall and far enough outside to where she disappeared into the raging blizzard.

Ajax's phantom image blinked out and appeared next to the boy who had fallen forward and was on all fours, all but drained by the use of his most powerful augmentation. "I've seen this; he will be down for a good minute or two. We have to protect him!"

Colt glanced back at where Komodo's breath had exposed some electrical wires. Without hesitation, he reached in and grabbed them. The electrical field surrounding him instantly turned a brighter yellow and darker blue. He focused on the man with the magnetic abilities. "My turn!"

This time Colt sucked power straight from the electrical generator giving the lodge power, dimming all the lights in the room as he did so. His bolt was much stronger than anything he could throw on his own, and it showed. The man was lifted off the ground on forks of bluish golden energy and flung up into the far upper corner of the room. Colt grinned as he pulled even more energy and kept it focused on the man. "Hey, this is at least a 30 amp circuit, maybe even more!"

Rex glanced around, realizing it was just him and the guy who had ordered the hostages killed facing each other. Once again he was blown backward by a strong gust of wind, but even as the carpet under him bunched up under his feet, he stepped forward, showing just how strong, how tough, and how much endurance he had in him. "You best have a bigger bang than a puff of air, because those really sting and I am gunna rip your fingers off and feed them to you unless you can stop me."

The man formed his hand into a fist and threw a punch. As this happened, a dark blast in the shape of a fist shot out and struck Rex in the nose.

Rex snarled and he used his shoulder to wipe a bit of blood from under his right nostril. At the same time he kicked a chair in front of him with everything he had with his left foot, sending it hurtling at the man. It struck him in his right leg, shattering as it did so. The guy staggered back but remained standing, albeit with a limp.

With nothing but fear in his eyes, the man clasped his hands together and pulled them apart while continuing to back away from Rex. As his hands moved further apart a dark black shaft appeared. Once it got to a length of a yardstick, he twisted his right hand, giving the black energy a sharp looking tip. The moment it was fully formed, he reared back and threw it with everything he could muster.

Rex turned to the side but still felt the edge of the tip open up a cut on his left arm. He pounced, slashing his claws downward the moment he was within range. All five claws found flesh on the guy's face. Rex's attack opened up five long, very deep wounds across the guy's forehead, continuing downward over the nose, mouth, and finally ending as they cut through some of the bone on the man's chin.

The guy howled in pain, but didn't go down. Instead a burst of superheated air surrounded him and he flew backward before gaining enough altitude to fly over Rex and out the hole created by Komodo's forced exit.

Rex ran to the hole in the wall, picked up a brick and hurled it at the rapidly departing figure. Another agonized scream told everyone Rex's aim had been good, but still not enough to drop the fleeing separatist. Breathing hard, and with pure fury in his eyes, he spun looking for more targets, only to find the room was secure.

On the floor above Rex, Garret got to the top of the steps, only to find the whole floor was coated in ice. His first step onto the incredibly slippery surface almost caused him to fall back down the steps. Luckily, his extremely quick reflexes and untold hours with the USDT martial arts trainer down in Florida allowed him to grab the railing and stop himself.

A man in his early twenties looked a bit surprised. "Nice move, kid, but let's see how you handle this!" The man took in a breath of air then spit. The saliva hardened into a dart-shaped mass and flew right at Garret's face.

Garret yanked up his shield, easily blocking it. He then pulled himself back up to the top of the steps, knelt on the ice-coated floor, and let loose with one of his sorcery bolts. The sparking, spiraling, burning, mass leapt out of his extended hand and slammed into the man's groin.

Even as it exploded, the man's eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he fell face first, his burning clothing quickly being extinguished as the flames melted the ice under him.

A much older man came out from a room across the hall and looked down. Even as his eyes went wide at the sight of one of his people lying unmoving, a muddy green glow surrounded him.

Not bothering to stand, Garret slammed his hand into the wall, giving himself a good handhold, and pushed off with everything he could muster. He stayed on his belly, and slid into the older guy. Just as he made contact, he brought up his glowing fist and threw the best punch he could, given the fact he had no real leverage and was on his stomach. Still, it was more than enough.

The man's greenish coating shattered around his lower right leg as Garret's fist smashed into it. An instant later, so did the man's ankle. The man crumpled to the ground, gripping at his mangled foot.

Garret wasted no time jumping to his feet, realizing he had come to the edge of the ice and the area he had ended up in was melted after putting out the flames on the young guy he had just dropped. Garret showed no pity; instead he brought his glowing fist down in a brutal swing, as if he was pounding on a desk. This time the greenish grow totally shattered, as did the guy's back.

Garret ignored the two he had just decimated; instead he turned to glace back at Ricky, who was unsuccessfully trying to walk down the hallway. "Sit, push off the wall, and slide; it is way too slick to stand on!"

Ricky did as instructed, bouncing off both walls a couple of times before making it to Garret. As Garret helped him to his feet, he looked down at the two men and shuddered. "Are they dead?"

Garret chewed on his lip lightly and shrugged. "Part of me hopes not, but we can't worry about them. We have to find the rest of the Normals before the friends of these two hurt them."

Ricky nodded; however, he still had to fight off a wave of nausea upon noticing the older guy was actually folded in half in the wrong direction, the middle of his back bent back at almost a 45-degree angle. He stopped himself from pointing it out to Garret, realizing the best chance he and the hostages had of surviving the next few minutes was with the terrifyingly powerful boy. The last thing anyone needed was for Garret to be distracted by what had already been done.

It also dawned on the twelve-year-old, this really was a matter of life and death. He wasn't in some kind of game where he could hit restart or go back to a save point. Combat in the real world was not nice, kind, or fun. It was terrible, sickening and unfortunately, sometimes, necessary. As he moved to catch up to Garret, he wondered if he could ever again play what up till now had been some of his favorite games on his PlayStation. One thing was for sure: if he did, it would be from a whole new perspective.

Getting to the large room at the end of the hall, Ricky watched in stunned admiration as Garret used his shield to deflect a pair of eye rays from an older teen while launching another sorcery bolt at a middle-aged woman who was moving toward a small group of captives with a pair of swords in her hands. The woman flew backwards into a water cooler. She landed in a heap along with the remnants of the five-gallon jug of water, her coat smoking.

Unnoticed by either Garret or Ricky, both blades the woman had been carrying fell to the floor next to the small group of zip-tied hostages. While all eyes were focused on Garret and the developing fight, Killian wiggled over and used the blade to cut himself free.

Ricky paused, spotted a woman with a pair of pistols, and sent a pair of light rays into her. One hit her in the eyes, blinding her. She dropped both nine millimeters and brought her hands up to her eyes with a pained and fearful cry.

Garret wasted no time closing on the boy who had shot eye beams at him. His left hand pulled his nunchaku off his belt while his right arm, with the shield, blocked an attempted punch.

Before the kid could do more than back off a step and shake his hand after smashing into the very hard sorcery shield, the first of a dozen nunchaku blows landed. The last thing the boy saw was the wooden end coming toward his face. He never felt the blow land, nor did he realize until much later the force of the strike had knocked out some of his teeth so ferociously, they had embedded into a wall three yards to the right of where he had fallen.

With his attention focused on Garret's amazing martial arts skills, Ricky never saw a boy about his age, with long antennas curling upwards from behind his head, come up from the side with a baseball bat.

Ricky screamed in pain as the bat connected with his knee.

Garret spun upon hearing the cry, but was prevented from getting to his new friend by a teenage girl who leapt up on one of the eight-foot-long banquet tables and kicked him in the face. Garret felt a huge burst of rage as he saw the boy raise the bat for another blow, but was once again prevented from helping as the girl used her thick tail to violently slap him in the face.

Knowing he was feeling the same energy he almost unleashed in the street earlier in the day, he did what Rex had recommended: he forcefully directed it toward his glowing fists. At the same time, he brought both of them down on the middle of the table the girl was standing on.

The center of the table snapped like a match stick being hit with a hammer. Furthermore, the force of his hit and the added power directed into his fists caused the two ends of the table to snap together like a huge mouse trap.

The girl was caught in the middle as the two ends came together. She hadn't even hit the ground before the two sides of the table crushed her, breaking bones from her thighs all the way to her shoulders. She fell to the floor without even realizing what had happened. The fact her tail continued to twitch in weird quick jerks told everyone at least part of her had felt, and was continuing to feel, a vast amount of pain.

Garret jerked in the direction of the boy with the bat, but realized even as he raised his hand to fire off another sorcery bolt, it would be too late. The wooden weapon was already descending toward Ricky's head. He closed his eyes.

An instant later the loud roar of a shotgun being fired filled the room. The boy with the bat was blown backwards and the bat clattered to the floor inches from Ricky's head.

At the entrance to the room, Brock chambered another round, brought the 12 gauge up to his shoulder and fired at the kid a second time. This time the kid was knocked back all the way to the wall. A third shot caught him in the face and dropped him.

Less than a second passed before gunshots sounded from behind Garret. He spun to see a man with fangs, sharp horns coming out the front of his head, and barbed boney fingers. The wicked-looking man tried to step forward, but instead staggering back away from him. Less than ten feet away, Killian moved forward and continued to fire one of the two nine-millimeter pistols dropped by the woman Ricky had blinded.

The man jerked back a bit further from Garret with each hit, but didn't go down, showing an impressive amount of toughness.

From the far side of the room Ricky, still crying, let loose with a pair of light rays.

At the same time Brock dropped to a knee to get the best aim he could, chambered another shell, and fired. The combination of the three-pronged attack was finally enough to drop the man, but not enough to stop him. He started to stand.

Garret dropped his nunchaku and dismissed his shield. Even as Killian dropped the expended pistol, brought up the second one and continued to fire, Ricky sent another pair of light rays, and Brock chambered and fired another round from the captured shotgun, Garret picked up the two ends of the snapped table.

The combined attack again put the guy down, but this time as he tried to stand, he saw Garret move up with half of an eight-foot-long banquet table in each hand. He looked into the boy's eyes, knowing this was going to hurt. He tried to roll out of the way, but it was too late. The small child in front of him extended both arms and made a clapping motion. The two ends of the table came together with him in the middle. Both sides of the table snapped as did every rib in his body. He collapsed, only to feel what was left of the table get tossed on him. He thankfully sank into blissful unconsciousness moments later.

Garret paused, looked at the guy he had thrown the remnants of the table on, then turned to the blinded woman. He showed no remorse as he tore a pair of pouches off her vest holding spare clips to the pistols, then tossed her out of the second story window with everything he could muster. The woman's screams lasted almost a full second, then ended suddenly as it was replaced by the sound of a tree snapping. Everyone in the room felt their jaws drop some as the reverberation of a large tree falling somewhere out in the storm echoed through the whole lodge.

Finally Garret straightened up, rolled his shoulders, and glanced over to Killian. With a hard nod and a slight smile, he tossed his classmate the pouches containing the extra ammo for the pistols. He paused, taking a few deep breaths, showing he had pushed his superior strength to its very limits, then spoke while delivering a pouch to the kid with the antennas, just to make sure the kid would stay down. "Thanks. Those fangs looked nasty."

"They are... Um were... Gee... I mean... wow! You are awesome!" Killian stated as he fumbled with the pistol he was holding, trying to reload it.

Brock moved over, hit the eject button, slammed a full magazine in and pointed to the other empty pistol.

With Brook's help Killian finally managed to put a full magazine into the other pistol.

Brock then took a moment to show the boy the safety and even adjusted the other boy's grip.

Once satisfied the guns were both loaded and he understood how to flip on and off the safety and properly reload them, Killian picked up one of the swords and started cutting the others loose. While he continued to work on the zip strips holding the others bound, he glanced up and nervously spoke to Garret. "He bit a guy who tried to stop them when they first burst in here. The man's arm turned all black and he started coughing blood within minutes. He finally died a couple of hours ago.

"I think they tossed him outside or something. They dragged him out when they took everyone who was like you guys. They had a woman who seemed to be able to tell who was Normal and who wasn't. I really thought we were next!"

"Not if we can prevent it," Garret stated firmly. He then glanced over to Ricky, only to see Brock standing over him protectively shoving more rounds into the shotgun while Ricky used his healing ability on himself. "Is it broken?"

Ricky shook his head. "It was, but when I vapor form and go back to solid, my bones automatically mend." He managed a bit of a smirk, "Something I found out the day my brother's first augmentation broke out... which was the last time I ever teased him, by the way."

Despite the situation, Brock managed to chuckle. "It must suck to have a younger brother that can kick your butt!"

"No, it sucks to get blamed when we play and he gets hurt, cause he is every bit as strong as I am!"

"I wish I had a brother to play with... I wish I had anyone to play with..." Garret stated a bit sadly. "So how bad is the leg?"

Ricky touched his knee and let out a gasp. "Bad... I don't think I can stand. For some reason, my flesh doesn't fix like my bones do and my knee is like three times bigger than it should be." He glanced over to the baseball bat, "It's weird; dad always works with us to spot danger, yet I never even saw who hit me until it was already too late."

Brock spoke up, "Not your fault. His antennas touch things and allow him to blend in to where he is all but invisible. Whatever they touched changed his color, even the color of his clothing. He also has some kind of stingers under his wrists that are poisonous or something. He took down a couple of Augments who tried to fight back by stinging them. They fell and started snoring like they were asleep only seconds after getting stung."

"So, are we clear?" Garret asked cautiously while scanning the room.

Killian nodded. "There was a bunch of others up here, but they took the two the antenna boy dropped plus three other Normals they burned and four other kids who the woman picked out. Another group went after another kid who took two of them down and escaped. He was wearing a COBRA tee-shirt. A couple of others, who could fly, left a couple of minutes ago.

Garret grabbed his radio, "Guys, the hostages up here are safe, but Ricky is hurt and there is a COBRA somewhere out there!"

Reed's voice came back over the radio, "The COBRA's with us, and thanks to his help, we are clear out front, but it looks like Gwen has a busted ankle. Josh is working on it."

Rex joined the conversation, "Front area is secure as is the hostages here. One flyer got away and Gustav is alive but down."

Eldora also chimed in. "Hostages from the first area are with us and are safe. No injuries to report, but the snow cat's a bit banged up. Guys, you should see Kurt in action. He's pretty awesome! Garret, how are the hostages where you are at?"

Garret looked over at his two classmates, one with a shotgun over his shoulder, the other with a pistol in his hand. He grinned at Brock, "Way more friendly than I expected."

Killian let out a long breath as he helped his Grandma to stand. "Not friendly enough."

He looked over to the rest of his family and finally pointed to Garret. "Mom, dad, this is Garret. He's in my class. I have never once been nice to him and when you asked why I only needed thirteen invitations when there was fourteen other boys in my class it's because I..." The boy stopped and looked at the floor. "Garret, I should have been nicer and invited you to my birthday-ski party or at the very least handed out the invitations while you were not around..."

Killian's dad stood, glanced down at his son with a bit of a scowl, and went over to Garret as he saw the boy shrug, and attempt a smile, failing badly. "Son, you clearly deserve better than how my son and others have treated you. Even after all the horrible things done to you, the first person you went over to was my son. The character you have shown this afternoon is more than most adults will ever show, and you should be nothing but proud of yourself.

"The party is supposed to be the day after Christmas, and you and your... um... mates... are more than welcome to join us on the slopes, and you are certainly welcome over to our home any time."

Garret looked up at the man, managing to hold back some tears, but he couldn't completely contain some of the frustration and sadness he had built up inside of him, "I'd just be happy to have someone in my class to talk to once in a while."

"You do now," Brock spoke up while adjusting the bandolier of shotgun ammo to fit his smaller frame. "And we'll have your back from here on out."

Thanks to D&B for another awesome editing job.

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