Riding on Bitch's dogs is unpleasant at the best of times. Riding on them with a broken arm, trying to keep a phone to my ear with my shoulder so I can communicate with Coil and get instructions from him on how to not die? Zero out of ten. Would not recommend. On the other hand, it is better than getting murdered by Purity. So there's that.
Come to think of it, this is my second time nearly being burned alive this week. It's almost like my boss is treating me like an incredibly disposable asset or something.
"Left" says Coil, and I call out the same to Rachel.
On the bright side, Purity was now busy dealing with Dauntless. Unfortunately, Hookwolf had shown up too, and he was able to keep pace with us.
"Could really use that backup right now, boss," I mutter angrily.
"The Travelers are still fifteen minutes out, unfortunately. There's not much that I can- nevermind, I've found you a getaway vehicle. I'm rerouting you now."
Unplanned. Sudden arrival of a friendly element. Who? Pre-existing asset, but where he didn't expect it to be.
Tires screech as we exit onto a side road. Bigger than a normal sized car. Van - no, armored car. PRT van. Shit. Behind us, the screeching and sparking noise of steel grinding against asphalt ring out as Hookwolf closes on us.
Large screws, bigger and longer than the ones used in the construction of buildings, erupt from the ground, blocking off the alleyway he was advancing down. Shaker. New Hero? Underdog second triggered the day of the bank robbery or earlier. Underdog then? Wards with PRT backup?
"Well look at this!" calls out a voice in a shitty approximation of a southern accent, tinged with… French Canadian. Regent. "Appears we got here just in the nick of time! What does that make us!?"
He flings open the door of the armored PRT van - oh god, he was driving!? - and steps out, gesturing for us to enter. A moment later, he glances at the passenger seat expectantly.
「Uh, line?」 says Underdog. No PRT inside. Underdog has gone rogue and broke Regent out. He wants to get on our good side? My good side specifically. He has questions. Looking for someone.
"Dammit, Minus. You're supposed to say 'Big damn heroes'. It's a Firefly reference!"
「What, like the guy in LA?」
"...Dude, do you even watch TV?"
「Yeah, but only superhero cartoons.」
"What, for real?"
"Not that your comedy routine isn't hilarious," Grue interjects testily. "But we're kind of in a hurry here, so could you unlock the back, Regent?"
Regent sighs, unlocking the door.. "Fine. The joke is ruined anyway."
「You sure you don't want Grue to drive? He's got a license right?」 Underdog interjects.
"Ah, good point. Don't want to break the law. Get up here, Grue." Regent says.
"...Isn't this vehicle stolen?" I can't help but point out. I'm playing into his hands.
「Of course not! We're just borrowing it.」 Underdog says, a smirk visible under his mask.
"Exactly. It's a rental, so if you scratch it you're gonna have to pay to get it repaired," Regent says with an identical smirk.
"Oh god, there's two of them now." Grue groans.
"So?" I ask as we exit the vehicle near one of Coil's pre-prepared bolt-holes.
"So, what did you want to ask me?"
「Oh! That's right!」Minus plops his fist into his open palm, realization dawning on his face. 「I knew I was forgetting something! Man, to pick up on that even when it had slipped my mind, your power really is something else, huh?」
Hiding anger. Jealous of my power. "Well?" I ask again, aiming to send him on his way so I don't have to deal with whatever hangups he's got. "Who are you looking for?"
「I feel like that part's something you could have figured out too, you know?」He points out. 「But, to answer the question, I'm looking for my little sister.」
"You don't have a little sister." I immediately interrupt as my power speaks up.
「Ahaha… Well, technically she's my cousin, but let's put that aside for now.」He says with a shrug, and reaches into his pocket. A few seconds later, he facepalms.「Crap, I already smashed my phone. Uh, basically, the gist is that my little sister got kidnapped a few days ago while everyone was busy responding to the Overgrowth mess. So, can you point me towards her kidnappers so I can rescue her?」
I take a few seconds to parse what he just told me. Well, not really. It only takes a half second for me to figure out exactly who did it and why. I was already aware of the kidnapping of Dinah Alcott, after all. Even if I was trying not to think about it, I knew all too well that our bank robbery that day had been a distraction so Coil could acquire a new asset.
No, the actual reason I take a few seconds is to make sense of the other information my power gave me as he was speaking, and to try to figure out what the hell I should do. Coil will probably put a bullet in my head if I sic a ward on him, right? But eventually, I come up with a general plan of attack.
"...Well, I think I've got a good idea who did it. But… even if I do owe you my life two times over, it's not like I can just give you info on what another villain is up to." I start.
"Tattletale." Grue interrupts. Thinking of his own little sister. Shit. "You realize that this is someone breaking the rules, right? It's not someone we'd want to ever have some kind of working relationship with."
"It's not that simple." I say, massaging my temples. "She's a new trigger, right?"
「...Yeah. She's a pretty powerful Thinker.」 Minus admits. 「But still, you guys do owe me a couple times over, you know? Think of this as an opportunity to get out of debt! If you act now, I'll even throw in some free authentic Underdog merch!」
"I have no desire to own your underwear."
"Especially not if it's autographed." I deadpan.
"Still, since he bailed us out…" Grue insists. "I'd prefer to be known as someone who pays his debts. Just give him the information, Tattletale. It's not like you to hesitate in screwing a rival gang over, you know?"
"It's not about who I'd be screwing over." I reply with a sigh. "This is about the other stuff I'm picking up from him."
「Oh, that's pretty normal. Armsmaster's lie detector picks up every word I say as a lie, you know? It's not super surprising for your power to get some garbage data from me.」He says, but I immediately counter that assertion.
"It's probably picking up that faux-cheerful attitude of yours. If it's just checking for truth or lie, then obviously someone as fake as you is gonna set it off." I say. "In my case, everything's lining up pretty well - and so, I won't tell you! I might have a rotten personality, but I'm not far gone enough to show gratitude to someone who saved my life by assisting in their suicide!"
"What…?" Grue turns to look at Minus, eyes widening beneath his mask.
「Woah, suicide is a pretty dramatic way to put it!」He replies, smile twitching. He's pissed. Three screws already beneath my feet. Barely keeping himself from killing me. 「Yeah, she said I've got a 99.85% chance of 'death', but depending on what that means, it's not actually that big a problem, right? If it's just a little heart stoppage, then I'll recover by the end of the day.」
"You're just making excuses. You don't even care if you die. In fact, you're the type of guy who'd be happy to see people crying at your funeral, aren't you!?" I snarl, and a gross feeling coils in my heart. I don't want to think about it. Carefully, I suppress my power, because I don't want to imagine the possibility that he could have been like this person.
「No, no, it's not like that. I just want to save-」He starts, but I interrupt his lie before he can get it out.
"Don't try to bullshit me. You're just doing this out of spite! You just want to see people cry about how heroic you were!" I reply. "Because that's the only reason I can imagine for you to want to martyr yourself in order to rescue someone that you hate."
His eyes widen a bit. There are more screws in the ground beneath my feet now. I shouldn't have said anything. I should have sent him after someone else, or even just shot him right now. I don't want to save this person. I don't want anything to do with this person. And yet, my mouth just keeps running on its own.
"That's right, isn't it? You hate that cousin of yours. For having a better power than you. For being smarter than you. For being more charismatic than you. You're jealous of everything about her, so why are you so desperate to save her?"
「Oh! So that's what you were confused by, huh?」He says, laughing. 「Well, if I refused to have relationships with people I was jealous of, I'd have to become a mountain hermit or something - though I'd probably starve to death without someone else to parasitize for resources. I'm well aware that I'm the lowest being in the entire world!」
"No, I'm sure of it. You aren't doing this out of love for that girl." I snarl. "I'm sure at least, of that much."
「Well, you're not wrong. It's about spite.」He says, and suddenly his smile gets a menacing quality to it. 「Ultimately, I want to save her because she said that I couldn't. Because she said I'd definitely fail, I want to succeed even more. Because her power is strong, I want to usurp it and rub it in the dirt and show it that it's not so great. Because...」
The smile drops from his face. He throws his arms wide, and suddenly, I feel like I'm gazing into an abyss. Like he's not even human, but rather some kind of crawling insectoid thing, operating only on a base instinct too low to even be called 'desire'.
"I want to win. I want to win. I want to be victorious, to tear down everything stronger than me. I won't be satisfied with a highbrow mature ending where the culprit and I talk out our differences, or a tragic ending where I can't save Dinah at all, or a bittersweet ending where no one is happy but we're at least all equally miserable. I want to crush Dinah's kidnapper so far into the dirt that people pity him as a poor victim. I want to crush Dinah's power so far into the dirt that she never trusts it for anything ever again. I want to crush my one hundred percent chance of failure so far into the dirt that Statistics ceases to exist as a field of mathematics!"
"You said I don't care if I die? You're wrong. Because if I die, I can't win. Because a heroic sacrifice in order to ensure no one else is hurt isn't good enough. I just don't care about my odds of dying, because, from the start, they were always high. I'm always at a huge risk of dying, because I'm weak. I really hate people who go through life trying not to risk their lives. What would you guys do if you had been born as weak as me, huh? You'd have to cower in your homes for all your lives and never go outside. But because I want to win, I can't afford to do that. I've got to risk my life if I want to win, that's just all there is to it."
"And so, I really don't care for people trying to protect me. I mean, blocking attacks or something on the field of battle is one thing, and I'm grateful to Vista, Regent, and everyone else that I've fought alongside. And giving me extra power so that I can put in more effective effort towards winning is also pretty helpful, so I'm grateful to the costume development team, [Blank Page], Bonesaw, and Anshin'in, for their help in making me stronger. But people like you, or the Youth Guard, or even Dinah and Clockblocker the other day, can all go to hell. Don't try to protect me. I can't let you protect me. Because if you protect me, then I can't win."
He's grateful to Bonesaw. Bonesaw wasn't making art out of him. No one is ever grateful for a trigger event. He probably triggered prior to the Nine's attack. He's not a Slaughterhouse victim at all.
"...You were a nominee…!" I realize aloud.
He smiles, and seems to shrink a couple feet as the oppressive aura disappears.
「Of course I was. In the first place, it seems like some kind of bad joke that I wound up in the Wards like I did. I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't hate most of them all that much, but isn't this a bit of a miscast? Like, did someone switch my script with Medaka-chan's or something? Jack taking her instead of me… isn't that like casting Gene Wilder as Alexandria? It's pretty weird. Regardless, it's not like the current me would be as inclined to join up. I'm in a bit of a better place mentally than I was back then.」He says with a shrug. 「Anyway, now that I've explained my intentions, do you mind telling me who my target is?」
There are even more screws under my feet now. He's going to kill me. He's going to kill me if I don't tell him, and if I lie to him and he figures it out, he'll kill me. I swallow to moisten my dry throat.
"Coil. It was Coil. I don't know where his base is, so you'll have to find out from someone else."
「Great! I knew I could count on you! Um, is there anywhere I can go to find some info, then?」He replies, and I note the ground I'm on suddenly sink a few inches as the screws beneath me disappear.
"Somer's Rock. It's agreed-upon neutral territory between villains, so you should be able to find someone if you hang around there." Grue says, a hint of nervousness in his voice. Finally realizes just how crazy this kid is.
「Awesome! Well, you guys stay safe! I probably won't by around to bail you out for a bit!」He says tauntingly, waving and disappearing down an alleyway.
Naturally, as soon as he's gone, I call Coil and tell him everything.
Kept you waiting, huh?
This chapter went unbeta'd because it's 3:45 AM where I am and it's been 5 months since the last update so I figured I wanna just get it out ASAP. (Also I feel weird about PMing my betas out of nowhere to say 'oh hey chapter's done' five months after they last heard from me.)
I'll try to have the next one done a little bit sooner.