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They crash through the door at the top of the stairs into the stock room of a department store, wherein the background music is, for some reason, Rage. Daniel grabs a PA phone from a startled clerk and shouts “run away” before Hugo’s axe bites through its cord. Tyler kicks Hugo’s knee and his next swing goes wild, and the four of them are scrambling away from the giant and his gang, straight up the escalator bannister. “Weapons,” pants Alex, “need weapons–”

When Hugo and the mooks arrive a few seconds later they’re poised in stance, calm and ready, umbrellas high.


Above, Quan-Ti doesn’t turn around. “I expected the blonde boy,” he says.

“I’m lighter,” Toe mutters.

“Do you even know anyone in China?” He does turn, now, tapping the bronze dagger on his lips. “Did they ask for your help?”

Toe glares.

“Where were you when they burned four thousand years of art? Tortured monks? Locked up authors? Where were you in Tiananmen Square?”

“Eating crayons.”

“Even if you could stop me, how do you expect to erase the past?”

“We’re fucking nerds, man,” says Toe, “our job is the future,” and Hugo’s sword falls smack in his open hand.


Hugo bellows a laugh. “How many of you do I have to throw off?”

“You came into my home,” says Daniel. “You threatened my family.”

“I also killed your friend,” says Hugo.

“Sure,” says Daniel, “that too.”

The sword comes up lower than Daniel expected, so he changes plans and runs up the blade. Putting his knee in Hugo’s face feels good.

Hugo screams with his mess of a mouth and brings it up again. This time Daniel steps aside and touches the point on Hugo’s wrist that opens his fingers. The sword flips up, way above them, end over end.


Hugo laughs an ugly, wheezy little laugh, shakes Dylan once by her collar, and throws her off.

Alex is two seconds ahead of him. He’s at the tower, then running up the wall, counting on horizontal inertia to pin him against it just long enough–

At one second, Dylan is thirty-three meters up. At two, it’s thirteen, and she’s only getting faster.

Alex knows that the right upward vector might reduce her momentum enough to keep them alive. He’s six strides up. Seven. Eight: he exhales and launches himself backward, headlong into gravity, first and most visceral human experience of acceleration.