Chapter 128:

Chapter 128 - Tortoise and Hare


“So, Montrevi’s finally decided to make a move on me, huh?” Gunn said with a smirk. “I figured it was only a matter of time.”

“Montrevi? As in, Alistair Montrevi?” The blonde girl looked up from the patch of ground she’d been retching over, her eyes rimmed with some kind of fluorescent orange crud. “Why would a man like him want anything to do with you?”

Gunn patently ignored her, his gaze fixed on Gio. “Am I wrong? You’re a city boy if I ever seen one, and you strutted right on into my enclave like you got somethin’ to prove. If the boss ain’t got a hand in that, I’ll kiss a flizzard’s wet rear end!”

Gio crossed his arms over his chest, regarding the Czar coolly. The man wasn’t wrong–not entirely, at least. He was tempted to play along and stoke his paranoia a little, but judging by the way that pink-haired girl was looking at him, he couldn’t afford to be coy about his allegiances. “Ya got me. I’m a Trigger City native through and through,” he admitted, “but my time with the Guardians is over. I’m out for myself now.”

“Then you’re a dead man walkin’. If there’s one thing I know about Montrevi, it’s that he don’t tolerate traitors.” Gunn’s eyes flicked briefly toward Morgan, hovering over the gaping hole in his gut. “But hey, if you’re lookin’ to end up like this one here, I’m happy to oblige.”

A deathly silence descended over the smoggy street as Gun Czar Gunn stared him down. The man’s hand hovered over his pistol’s grip, his taunting grin daring him to try the same, but Gio didn’t move a muscle. He knew Gunn’s reputation well enough. There wasn’t a man alive who could draw faster than he could, so he didn’t even try. He left his gun holstered beneath his suit jacket, bracing himself for the inevitable hail of bullets that would soon be streaking his way.

They came out even faster than he’d expected. Before he could so much as blink, all six bullets in Big Iron’s chamber came hurtling toward his skinny frame. Gunn wasn’t pulling any punches; he’d aimed straight for the chest, no doubt seeking to drop him with minimal fuss.

Gio closed his eyes. He’d been in this position countless times, and it never got any easier. Visions of his own bleeding heart and punctured lungs danced through his mind, tormenting him. Tempting him. At moments like these, he’d used to feel invincible. But somewhere along the line he’d started wishing for somebody to finally strike true–to overcome his defenses.

To put down the monster he’d become.

…But even Gunn, the fastest Gunslinger on the continent, didn’t seem to be up to the task. Gio opened his eyes to find Big Iron’s volley floating languidly through the air, still several inches from his unguarded chest. He sighed and stepped aside, barely registering the looks of utter shock and disbelief he earned in doing so, and came to stand a foot or so away to watch them pass. The bullets floated by like the laziest of fish, drifting along with an unseen current on their journey toward irrelevance. Only once they’d cleared his aura did they regain their original speed, whizzing into the darkness of the tunnel’s maw without ever striking flesh.

Afterward, all was quiet. But the atmosphere of the standoff had shifted completely; Gunn stood there, utterly gobsmacked, as Gio looked his way, gun quivering in his hand. The rest watched in stunned silence as the younger man tugged his own weapon from his concealed chest holster, turning it over in his slender fingers as he opened his mouth to speak:

“Y’know, someone once told me that a gun’s more than a weapon,” he drawled, his eyes boring into Gunn’s. “It’s a symbol. A deterrent. If ya spook folks enough, they’ll fall in line without ya having to fire a shot.”

He paused, then, reaching up to slip a hand beneath his hat and slide his fingers through his slick black hair. “And I gotta say, Gunn… Right now, you look pretty fuckin’ deterred to me.”

The Czar hesitated for a moment, looking as though he wanted to say something… But instead, he turned tail and ran. Gio rolled his eyes and took careful aim, preparing to gun him down. He took no pleasure in it, but Gunn was a rabid dog. Everyone knew it. If he didn’t waste him here, he’d undoubtedly kill again, and probably inflict a variety of other ills on his fellow range-dwellers besides.

He was about to pull the trigger when the pink-haired girl–Roulette–threw herself in front of him with her arms spread wide.


Gio blinked, incredulous. “What? What’s your problem?” he snapped. “The guy’s a mass murdering psychopath! I’d be doing the world a favor by putting a bullet in his back! Ya can’t tell me you’re actually protecting him right now!”

To his surprise, she mirrored her own blink back at him. “Protect…? Him?” She snorted derisively, bringing the butt of her SMG’s stock to rest on her shoulder. “I didn’t stop you because I want to protect him. I stopped you…

“Because he’s mine.”

Before he could say another word, she turned on her heel, took her gun in her hands, and opened fire. The previously quiet street lit up like a firework as bullets, darts, and a whole mess of other projectiles riddled Gunn’s back. Blood, water, and what looked to be alcohol stained his duster, and arcs of lightning licked at his limbs. At some point, a bandage slithered from the tip of her gun and bound him up from head to toe, followed by, of all things, a hot pepper. It exploded in a shower of red-orange mist, but that wasn’t enough for her; she kept firing into the cloud of stinging vapor for a good half-minute more, gleefully subjecting the beaten man to every affliction under the sun.

Gio was no boy scout, but after a while the brutality of it all started to get to him. “Okay, okay! Enough!” he bellowed, stepping forward to shove her barrel toward the ground. “He’s dead! Lay off already, will ya?”

She looked up at him with a faraway look in her eyes, breathing heavily. Before he could ream her out further, though, the unthinkable happened:

The easternment smokestack of the Ballistona arms factory leaned abruptly to the left, falling into its neighbor with a resounding crash. The others began to fall like dominoes, crumbling to the roof with enough force to get the ground shaking.

A second later, the building buckled from the weight and began to collapse. Great clouds of dust and debris billowed up into the air, gusting out over the city to sting every eye and fill every lung in the vicinity. For a long, chaotic moment, Gio couldn’t see or hear the others, but that didn’t stop him from seeking them out. He had to get them out of there. He had to… Or else, all of this would be for nothing.

He took a firm hold of Roulette’s shoulder and guided her through the sand squall, stubbornly making his way toward the last place he’d seen Morgan. As expected, the man hadn’t moved. Visibility was just good enough that he could make out the puddle of blood around his body; he couldn’t even tell if he was still alive or not.

No time for a proper reunion, Gio lamented, bringing Roulette around to face their fallen friend. “We need to get him on his feet!” he shouted, straining to be heard above the din. “Should be a store of medical supplies somewhere aboard the Express!”

“Beretta’s weapon could save him!” Mimi’s voice called from nearby. “She’s still in there somewhere, though! I saw her run toward the factory!”

“Fine! I’ll go get her, then!”

Roulette chose that moment to come out of her daze. “I’m goin’ with you!”

“You’ve done enough!” he snapped. “Focus on getting Sarada back to the train!”

With that, Gio faced the wind and plodded away from them, lifting an arm to shield his face from the hail of grit. It was slow going, but with every step the air grew a little clearer; he could make out the sight of two figures struggling in the distance, veiled in the last vestiges of the sudden sandstorm.

Without the howl of the wind to deafen him, Gio noticed the sound of footsteps behind him. He whirled to confront their owner, expecting to find that Roulette had ignored his instructions and followed along…

…But, to his surprise, he found Mimi there instead.

“Don’t say a word!” she said in a rush, her cheeks streaked with filth and runny mascara. “Until we know what happened to Marka, I’m the closest thing that girl has to a family! I’m coming with you whether you like it or not!”

Gio opened his mouth, ready to argue, but then thought better of it. ‘Fine,” he replied, his expression softening. “But if we’re doing this, we do it my way, capich–”

A sudden gunshot cut him off. With frantic hands, Gio checked himself for injuries, but found none. Had someone fired on him and missed? He whipped his head around to scan the street ahead, keen eyes settling on the place he’d seen the two figures fighting before, but he saw nothing out of the ordinary…

…Except for the fact that one of them was gone.

“Huh,” he breathed, shoulders slackening in relief. “Wonder where the other one got off to…?”

The words had scarcely left his lips before a piercing scream erupted behind him, followed swiftly by the tip of a knife sliding right between his ribs.

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