Chapter 199:

The Hunter Arrives

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

The trio continued to run through the hospital with Rom in the lead. She considered shouting something profane to Gwyn but held it in for fear that it would only make the moody Nonpareil that much worse to deal with. The assistant recalled stories of the heroic Nonpareil that her mother read to her and her sisters when they were small Zenotote girls. The wonder of such a figure existing captivated her imagination and even inspired her to support Mayor Abelard, who himself was under the impression he would play a significant part in the story of the next Nonpareil and prepared for it diligently.

Rom avoided looking at the mayor’s eyes as they made their escape; she could only imagine how disappointed he must have felt with the hero they got. All their preparation and care might as well have been wasted on frivolous things. The blue and white Zenotote felt as if she wanted to cry. She had often criticized her sister for taking work with a ‘quack detective’ instead of a truly worthwhile job, but Gwyn was making her convictions crumble faster than a loaf a dry bread.

She gritted her sharp teeth as the group turned a corner and headed down a long stretch of hallway.

“Mayor, we are getting close to the exit!” she shouted back.

“That’s great, Rom!” Abelard did his best to shout back through huffed words. He wished he had listened all the times she told him to take better care of himself.

Before they could get anywhere close to the end of the hallway, a loud series of booms began to ring out like they were being rapid-fired, coming from the direction the trio wanted to go. Rom stopped and gulped. Then she turned around and waved for the other two to go down a fork in the halls. They didn’t argue, the sound was clear to all, and soon all three fled further into the hospital, away from the sound that approached.

“That can’t be good!” Abelard managed to say through heavy breaths.

“I fear it is an opponent we are not equipped to handle,” Rom replied, “especially when the one who is supposed to be our best fighter is a sniveling coward.”

Gwyn said nothing but rolled his eyes. He didn’t care much for her comments and focused on fleeing as quickly as possible.

“Now, Rom, we all have bad days, you know!” Abelard offered with forced generosity. He would have been lying if he had said Gwyn’s attitude wasn’t concerning, but the mayor had hope that the stories of past Nonpareils he had heard were not just tall tales but gave a glimpse of Gwyn’s potential.

Had the earthling known so much hope was being put on him, his knees would have buckled from the immense pressure. He had too much else to worry about and too much else to focus on. The possibility that Nighthawk was the one approaching was becoming more and more apparent to him. Each boom through the walls eerily reminded him of when he was used as a battering ram to shatter several building floors, and his heart pounded with fear at the possibility of it happening again. At that moment of defeat, several layers inside him were shattered as well, and he had no idea what he could do other than run.

Mem did its best to cheer Gwyn up with positive words in his mind, but none took. The Nonpareil was too wrapped up in his thoughts and too preoccupied with the hard spots on his limp arm that itched far more than a scratch could alleviate; he still clawed at his arm with his Needaimus-covered hand all the same.

Another boom of a shattered wall rushed up behind them, and none of the trio bothered to turn around; they didn’t need to. The intensity of their opponent's glare was too strong on their backs; it was as if targets had been painted, and each was waiting there turn to be shot. Like a bird of prey was flying overhead, and they were three helpless animals waiting to be captured and devoured. The three felt nothing but fear of the giant Needaimus as it walked in their direction; seconds later, Nighthawk burst into a sprint—heavy footsteps from its metal feet tore the floor in the hallway as it tried to close the gap.

It was at that point when Rom finally turned to see their opponent; she immediately wished she hadn’t. A body of metal was the perfect defense against her fighting style; she was effectively useless against their foe and, worse, forced to rely on the Nonpareil, who only seemed good at running away.

Gwyn had already created a gap between him and the two others, leaving his companions in the dust. You don’t have to be the fastest, the earthling had heard before; you just have to be faster than the slowest. It was joking advice his track captain had said during a campout in his freshman year of high school. The group had been worried about seeing bears, so their captain offered some ‘words of wisdom.’ They competed for the rest of the trip to see who was the slowest and, therefore, the ‘bear-chow.’ It hadn’t been Gwyn. He was always quick on his feet, and in the present moment, he was glad to be the fastest. If running was what he was good at, he would gladly use it to escape the danger.

“What are you doing!” Rom shouted at Gwyn as the gap between the trio continued to grow, and the gap between her and Nighthawk continued to shrink. The Zenotote had deliberately slowed down, so the mayor was in front of her to use the same running away principle Gwyn did to justify his flight.

“I’ll go get help!” Gwyn shouted back. His words, at the very least, weren’t lies. Though he was willing to abandon the others, he hoped to get aid and return. Rheba and Harlan were still in the hospital, and he knew he could count on them to take on a challenging foe.

“You are the help! Do something!” Rom added.

Gwyn took a deep breath and ran close to the wall, and came to a halt.

“What am I doing?” he muttered under his breath as he shoved his Needaimus bonded palm onto it. The whole wall in front of him, a span longer than a semi, liquified. He turned to look, and his skin turned several shades paler at the sight of the old foe. The Nonpareil almost fled again, but by something he only could identify as an unknown force, held steady as Mayor Abelard and Rom approached. “Now?” he asked.

Not yet! Mem replied.

“Now?” he asked again with more panic bleeding through.

Wait for it.

Mayor Abelard passed by Gwyn; Nighthawk was close enough for the Nonpareil to see the whites in his eyes if any were visible under the metal Needaimus exterior.

Now! Mem said.

The liquified section of the wall flowed like a giant wave at Nighthawk, revealing several quivering doctors who had used the room behind it as a hiding spot; the bulky Needaimus tried to stop but had too much forward momentum to avoid getting hit by the attack. The section of wall encased the metal form in a block that slid down the hall until it stopped just in front of the Nonpareil. Gwyn gasped for air as he turned to the other two. He was surprised to see that they were still running away.

“Hey!” he croaked.

“Good job!” Rom replied, “My opinion of you has improved… but only slightly…. That probably won’t hold him long, so let's get out of here while we can!”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Gwyn muttered under his heavy breath before taking off after the other two. They fled around a corner as cracks began to form on the solidified casing. Nighthawk was beginning to break out so that the pursuit could start again.