The blood gushed crimson red from where the sniper’s bullet had slashed his left shoulder open. In the medical field, they would call the injury a graze, but that didn’t stop the wound from issuing wave after wave of throbbing, nearly unbearable pain. Nausea threatened to overwhelm him every time he reached over with his right hand to put pressure on the wound and his fingers were tacky from blood that had long since soaked through his thin leather gloves. Worse yet, he knew that if he didn’t find a better solution than his hand he would soon bleed out, and then those pursuers of his could walk up as pretty as they please and punch a bullet between his eyes.
The Arach-Knight reached the edge of a rooftop and leapt off of the stone ledge, soaring into the air over the deep canyon of streets below. As he landed on the roof of an apartment building opposite, a jolt of pain from the impact made him cry out. His knees felt suddenly weak, threatening to give way altogether as he willed them to carry him on a few more steps. The roof was covered in loose gravel that crunched beneath his boots as he shuffled along towards the boarded up greenhouse sitting atop the tenement. He reached the corner and pulled himself around, hoping that this hiding place would grant him surcease from their relentless pursuit.
It was the first moment of peace he could hold on to since these terminators had begun their assault an hour ago. Some people called the Funez family had declared open season on heroes and villains alike, and for some damned scary reason Andrew was high on their target list as it was only minutes after hearing the news report that they had descended on him. With his back pressed against the rough, oak boards, which were nailed haphazardly over the greenhouse’s broken windows, the Arach-Knight took a deep breath. It was only slightly past noon, so the air was still thick with heat and humidity. Off on the horizon, enormous banks of blackened thunderclouds loomed with poetic promise of the storms to come.
The sickening crunch of gravel alerted the spider to the arrival of one of the black armored grunts tracking him. There were two heavy steps and then the sound paused for a moment before the gravel shifted slightly, leaving the Knight to imagine that the grunt was now crouched over the very spot he had landed on. The silence stretched out, uncomfortably so, until the static hiss of a communicator opening broke the moment open.
“Target was here so track on my signal,” the toneless voice said. “There’s blood here, so he’s definitely hit. I’d guess he’s maybe a minute ahead of me. The blood appears to lead across the roof. There’s an alley and then a larger building across from it.”
“Subject can climb walls,” a steely voice responded. “Head up and we’ll triangulate on that position.” The voice cut off with a noisy squelch as the soldier stood once more and began walking towards the ledge between buildings. His route would take him past the greenhouse; he’d be only a step away. Andrew’s heart thudded against his chest cavity as he reached behind his head and grasped one of loose boards. He fought hard against the pain as he did everything possible not to make a sound. The footsteps grew louder until they carried the terminator past the edge of the derelict building. For one glorious moment, the Knight though that maybe, just maybe the grunt would continue on, but then he started to swing his metallic helmet towards his hiding spot. With a scream of rage, fear and sorrow, the Arach-Knight tore the board free and swung it in a wicked arc towards the man’s armored throat. The strike connected, taking the soldier almost unaware and he gurgled something unintelligible as he fell backwards onto the roof.
Fighting through the pain, the young spider leapt forward and with his good arm grasped the soldier’s belt. When one has the ability to lift a two-ton bus, it isn’t hard to pick a man up, even an armored one, and that was what Andrew did. He lifted the terminator high and threw him javelin like at a window in the tall building that loomed majestically across the alley. There was a horrible sound of crashing glass and grinding steel as the grunt disappeared from view. Without daring to linger even a moment longer, the Arach-Knight leapt from the building and webbed his way as far from that block as he could.
Sometime later, with the sun still resting comfortably above the horizon, the Arach-Knight came to rest once more. He was in an old, dark alley that reeked of garbage and maggots. A moldy crate of apples leaned against an overflowing garbage bin, indicators that no one had visited this place for a long time. That was good enough for Andrew as he shuffled feebly over to a dark corner behind the dumpster and sat down. He pulled off his mask and gagged on the rancid air, but he was still breathing, he reminded himself, and that was quite an accomplishment. The dropped the mask unceremoniously onto the wet, moist pavement and leaned back against the cool brick wall. A long, dirty tablecloth hung out from the side of the garbage bin, so he tore himself off a piece and used it to tourniquet his bleeding shoulder.
A filthy, brown rat pulled one of the moldy apples free and dragged it across the alley. It stopped as it neared Andrew and stared at the teenager in apparent annoyance. “Sorry to crash your alley, little one,” Andrew said with a sigh. “All the tables at the Ritz were full.” The rat, still staring at the boy, began to nibble on the apple.
“Probably be best if you scampered off. This may not be the safest place in the city right now.” Honestly, Andrew had no earthly clue if or when those ebon-armored psychos would find him again. And that brought on a deeper question; how long would he have to run from them? If the government was sanctioning this witch-hunt, he could very well be running forever.
“NO,” he growled with a ferocity that startled himself and the rat, which ran with his sweet treat towards another, darker part of the alley. “I don’t have to run, because they have no clue who I am without this mask.” It was simple logic. They were after the Arach-Knight. Without this mask he was just Andrew O’Gill, high school student. He reached out and picked the mask back up, staring at it thoughtfully. Could he live with that decision? Could he walk away from this world? Could he walk away from the Vine Titans? In a deep pocket of his gut, something sick turned over. The Titans. The Termination Squad would be after all of them too and they were his friends. The answer was simple, of course, he knew beyond any reason that he couldn’t walk away from this until he knew Eclipse and the others were safe. After that…well after that would take care of itself.
With a tired grunt, he pushed himself up the wall and into a standing position. From here, the tower was maybe twenty five to thirty miles away. “Thirty miles across a hostile city teeming with soldiers looking for my head,” the Knight whispered. “Just a walk in the park.” He tried to make himself laugh, but only a small sob escaped his throat. Salty tears dripped down his cheeks as he mashed the mask back over his head.
“Thirty miles,” he said, steeling himself. “God help me.”
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