Chapter 9

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Olivia Hahn received a Miracle after her daughter died. 

That Miracle allowed her to rewrite someone else's perception of reality. 

And now she would use that Miracle to ruin Achilles. 

 

Joey watched the scene in terror. The military had Achilles surrounded, and Achilles himself was holding a child hostage. Rayguns had no effect. There seemed to be nothing the officers could do. 

But could he do something? 

The idea settled in the back of his head, gaining ground even as he wrote it off as ridiculous. What could he accomplish that the military couldn't? 

As two officers ran at Achilles and collapsed with well-timed kicks to the abdomen, the answer came to him unbidden. He still didn't know exactly what his power entailed, but if it made him resistant to impacts, he could take on Achilles. There had to be something going on, something they couldn't tell. 

Barely thinking about what he was doing, Joey looked around for something he could use to cover his face. All he could find within reach was an empty popcorn bag. He grabbed it and punched a couple eyeholes in it before putting it over his head. 

Ridiculous? Certainly. But he didn't have the luxury of thinking about what he looked like. Joey - Jumper - darted out of the side street and got in front of Achilles. The officers yelled at him to get back, but Jumper had to do this. 

"Achilles, you need to stop," he said, barely keeping his voice from wavering. "Innocent people are getting hurt." 

"I'm protecting them!" Achilles replied, tightening his grip on the kid. "He was going to shoot all of you." 

The boy wailed once again, and the woman who was supposedly his mother screamed something incoherent, probably something Jumper didn't want to understand. 

"No. That kid is just a scared crying boy. Put him down." 

"And what will you do with that knife then?" Jumper frowned under the popcorn bag. 

"What knife? Achilles, you're being weird." 

"Who are you anyway?" 

Jumper froze before taking a breath and speaking again. 

"It's Jumper. You have to trust me." 

He couldn't see what was going on behind Achilles' mask, but he desperately hoped his words were getting through whatever had Achilles going nuts. 

 

"It's Jumper. You have to trust me." 

The name rang clearly in Achilles' ears, and he had to stop himself from laughing at Jumper's getup. Street clothes and a paper bag with "SUPER BUTTER POPCORN" written on it did not look like anything a superhero should be caught dead in. But the voice was the same (he thought) so he decided to trust this baghead. 

Slowly he put down the kid, wary of the knife in Jumper's hand. He made sure the raygun was away from the boy, who ran screaming to the circle around him. That circle...was the military? Couldn't they see what was going on here? All these weapons and murderous gazes? 

But Achilles kept his eyes on Jumper, choosing to trust him, no matter how much his heart was shaking. Something strange was going on, and maybe Jumper - his sidekick - had an idea what it was. He grinned under his mask. Every hero needed a sidekick. 

"Now tell me what's going on," Jumper said. The words sounded vague and indistinct, as if it were coming through a wall. The images around Achilles wavered, and he felt himself getting ill from the shimmering scenery. 

"What...?" 

Suddenly he started to feel dizzy. Words wouldn't come out no matter how hard he tried to force them. The air in his lungs was frozen, unable to enter or exit. He tried to inhale, but it felt like his lungs were full of putty. Attempting to exhale gave him the strange sensation that there was something blocking the air from coming out. 

Struggling to breathe, Achilles, clawed at his throat, collapsing on the ground. 

"Achilles? What's happening?" Jumper ran up to him, holding him upright. Achilles saw Jumper's eyes for the first time. Both previous times they'd met, it had been too dark to make out anything. 

I don't know what's happening. Help me. The thoughts annoyed him. He was supposed to be the hero. At the end, he should have been thinking something cool like It's no use. I leave the rest...to you...

But no. Inside, Achilles was crying, begging for his life back. His vision started to fade and he found himself face-to-face with the floor. 

 

Irritation sparked inside Olivia. It had been perfect until that weirdo with the bag on his head - Jumper apparently - had run into the picture. Now Achilles was starting to question the illusions, which meant she had to work harder to keep him trapped. She decided to end it there. By making him think his lungs weren't capable of breathing, she'd end him soon. 

She looked coldly over the crowd, who were utterly confused. Some cheered at Achilles' collapse, while others cried out in worry. 

Fools, all of them. All puppets for her to make dance. 

 

Achilles had collapsed. Jumper had managed to help him onto the ground, but now the military were on guard again. From the way he was gasping, Achilles seemed to have run out of air. But how? Arx was fully pressurized and Jumper was right next to him. If he had breathing problems, then Jumper should too. 

A weird random thought bugged the back of his head. A memory of Ned showing him a game. 

"Huh? Why isn't my character moving right?" Joey had asked. 

"Confusion," Ned replied simply. 

"What's that? Ah! No! Not off the cliff!" 

"It's a status effect. Basically, your controls are reversed until it wears off. So go toward the cliff to stay away from it." 

"That makes no sense! What is even up with these ailments?" 

"Dunno. They're pretty standard. Watch out, that guy's gonna blind you." 

"Blind? What? No! Where's my screen?" 

"Relax. You can still see your character, right? It's just that most of the screen is blacked out." 

There was no way this could be like that. That was a video game. This was real life. The fact that it even came to mind made Jumper sigh and chastise himself for being too much of a gamer. 

But in fantasy stuff there was also mind control stuff, right? So then...could this be something like that? 

The thought, once thought, wouldn't leave him alone. He left Achilles on the ground and stood, looking around the crowd for whoever was casting it - or whatever this was. If he was wrong...

Please don't be wrong. 

Near the back of the crowd a blond woman was watching the scene impassively. She stood out because everyone else was in varying stages of panic. Then...could she be doing this? 

His rational mind said that this was a ridiculous idea and he should examine Achilles. But another part of him threw logic at it. 

Achilles was invincible. He had ridiculous jumping power. If there were two people with Miracles, why not more? And why couldn't one of them decide they hated Achilles? 

So Jumper followed his gut, darting through the crowd until he got to the suspicious woman. Her eyes widened in surprise as he approached, ready to grab her. He missed the first time, but snagged her wrist on the way by. She glared at him and suddenly her wrist felt hotter than a stove. 

Jumper almost let go. Instinct told the body to let go of something if it was hot enough to damage it. He should be running away from it. But the burning pain in his hand seemed to confirm his suspicion. 

Whoever this woman was, she had a Miracle. And she was using it against them. 

He tightened his grip, and grabbed her other arm firmly. This one burned too. But no matter how bad it was, Jumper would not let go. It was an illusion. Just an illusion. Illusions can't hurt you. Those thoughts were the only thing keeping him from screaming and getting away from her. 

Sweat poured down his face as she glared at him, seeming to glow red-hot as the pain in his hands continued to rage. 

 

Achilles looked around frantically for Jumper. Air had suddenly flowed in and out of his lungs again, but the sidekick was nowhere to be seen. But luckily, a bag on someone's head was pretty conspicuous. Jumper was at the back of the crowd, struggling with a woman. 

"What are you doing now, huh?" a sergeant yelled. Achilles tried to get to Jumper, but two officers blocked him. 

"Jumper!" The guy's arms were completely tense, rigid as steel. If he wasn't holding a terrified-looking woman captive, he'd look pretty cool. 

"Achilles! She's the one behind this! I think she's got a Miracle too." 

Jumper's voice echoed over the crowd and Achilles immediately moved into action. He shoved the officers out of the way, ignoring the raygun shots as he pushed his way through the crowd. They mostly parted for him, but a few stood in stunned silence and one of them even tried to stop him. Quite heroically too. If only Achilles was a bad guy. 

The woman's expression twisted into rage as he approached, and Jumper cried out in pain. 

What was happening? 

 

Olivia couldn't understand it. Achilles had fallen for all her illusions so easily. So why was this kid in a popcorn bag dealing so well with it? She could only affect one person at a time, and Achilles seemed fully recovered. 

Where had she screwed up? How had Popcorn-Bag found her? And why the hell was he not letting go? The burns on his hands were getting worse by the moment. The guy had nerves of steel, she'd give him that. 

But since she'd failed, the priority was escape. As Achilles ran closer, she twisted her arms once again, trying to get Popcorn-Bag off of her. Finally she managed to twist enough that he released her, and she darted down a side street as fast as she could go. 

Achilles was right behind her. But she'd be fine. Olivia hadn't evaded the military for this long for nothing. 


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