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Pen Your Pride

Prologue

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Breath came in short, ragged gasps as a woman with short, red hair dashed through a deserted alley. In the dark of nighttime, an emerald glow illuminated her path, cast by overlapping layers of light that clad her body like armor. Despite the glow, or perhaps because of it, her features were hidden behind a veil of shadows. Her speed picked up to inhuman levels as the soft whir of countless tiny jets pushed her body forward, leaping over fallen trash cans and splashing through stagnant puddles.

Trailing behind her came the sound of raised voices and gunshots. The incessant fire caught up to her and peppered everything around her in a technicolor rainbow of luminous projectiles. Sparks, bits of brick, and asphalt flew in her face as the shots hit dumpsters, walls, and pavement.

The jarring impact of a few well-placed shots pelted between her shoulder blades and the back of her leg, and instinct kicked in. She jumped to the side, planting her feet on the wall and running along it to avoid their fire.

Along her previous path, a dumpster smoked and crumpled inward from the hail of gunfire, only to have a hole blown through it by the thunderous impact of an enormous shell.

Just great, they brought heavy firepower.

The alley was too narrow. Shots like that would be impossible to dodge with her back to the enemy, and she’d be ripped to shreds. In such a tight corridor, she had only one option. Kicking off the flat brick walls, she propelled herself upward, touching down on the sill of a window on the opposite side to leap again. She bounced herself up seven stories above the pavement to the safety of the roof.

She finally had a moment to breathe, but only a moment, so she quickly checked herself where she’d been hit. Thankfully none of the shots had fully breached her defenses. The Solid Light Emitters were already mending the bullet holes that had formed in her armor too. Despite the torrential flood of holo-bullets she had escaped unharmed, though not unscathed. Her Gear was running dangerously low on power, and without it she would be defenseless.

Suddenly, a distant crack rang out and a flash of violet ripped past her. She screamed, the bullet quickly followed by pain that lanced through her left arm as it shredded through the armor on her upper arm and splashed a thin trail blood across the roof.

This just kept getting better. They had a sniper too.

As if that wasn’t enough, a fire escape behind her started to rattle as several bodies began storming up it.

“Nnggh, shit!” the woman hissed, gripping the fortunately shallow wound. She dropped and rolled to the side just in time to avoid another shot that whiffed right by where her torso had been. “Can’t fight here, nowhere to hide… better run fast.”

She took off at a full sprint, the Gear on her legs supplementing her every move with controlled thrusts of its micro-jets. In seconds she’d cleared the length of the building, but her way was blocked as two gangsters leaped up over the edge, their bodies clad in plates of glowing armor.

“Out of my way!” she bellowed.

Before they could even level their weapons, she pulled back her hands to her side in a cupping motion. Light began to condense between her palms, and she thrust them forward. Her Gear activated the technique, unleashing a verdant orb of artificial flame from her hands.

The blast struck the thug on the right full in the chest, sending him back careening over the edge. The other one got it worse, as she closed the gap between them in the blink of an eye. Leaning low, she brought the full force of her sprint into a merciless uppercut. Pyral lights flashed in a glowing neon trail, flowing from her knuckles, as the enhanced blow propelled the woman and her victim skyward.

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