The Bigger Monster

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Illustration by Beth Hellman https://www

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Illustration by Beth Hellman

     Quincy realized, when he left the relative safety of their shack, that it was far more common in Silvereach for things to be stolen than people to go looking for them. He spotted the ragged little thief a couple huts away, inspecting his haul. Quincy rolled silent steps through the shadows of the brick-and-steel walkway. He made it within twenty feet before the boy's face shot up. He clenched the bandanna in his hands and stiffened toe to shoulder.

    "Listen, I-

    "Scrub tryna take what I got!" the boy squealed. He spun around.

    "Hey, I only want the mask!" Quincy hissed. He darted down a narrow chute of branches and sheet metal in pursuit. The boy led him from the quiet outskirts to the ornery bazaar of Silvereach's patchwork heart.

    "Earned it with me fingers! The scrub wants it back! Gon hurt me- little child!" Already, restless heads of wild eyes tracked the suddenly sweaty newcomer and his target.

    "A scrub?" one man smoldered, "Taking back?" Crichton's warning hammered in the back of Quincy's mind. He was more fleeing the loose crowd behind him now, than chasing the boy. They stopped at the dead end of a sandstone side street. Thief and accuser were cornered together.

    "Listen, kid," Quincy whispered while the mob grew over his shoulder, "You can have whatever you took, but that bandanna."

    "But I took it!" the boy poured.

    "I'm starting to feel that's an alright thing to do here, but that's the only thing in this world that means anything to me. Just do me this favor-

    "Favor!?" the boy scoffed.

    "A scrub takin back from a boy!" voices barked behind him,

    "Thinks he above bein taken!"

    "Plug is hole! Toss im from the dam!"

    "What's got you lot so riled?" The last voice was a thunderclap that dwarfed the others. The crowd hushed by half, then entirely when he said, "Its been years since you Reachers have been so animated. Why, you'd think someone was trying to uphold the law!" His guffaw rattled pebbles across the ground.

    "Ge-general Bragg," blew through the crowd like wind in reeds. He was a jetty in the tide of people, a head taller and shoulder wider than even the largest of the Reachers. They folded away from his approach. His face was a statue of once-proud features, from dented nose to heavy brow.

    "Don't stop on my account. Exact your justice! He feels above being taken from? Take his life!" Bragg spread his open arms at Quincy, "But be warned. You stand before Blackstar, the vigilante!" Quincy inched away from Bragg, the absent faces of the Reachers turning between them. "Blackstar? The infamous vandal and arson? Nobody?" when his shadowed eyes fell on Quincy, he felt all of two inches tall, "No. Because he's Terra Layer news. What happens up there means nothing down here. We're what was thrown away, left to rot, and what we get is what we take."

    "I-if you don't care," Quincy's fingers shook around his belt, "Why come here?"

    "Bregun sent me an Imp. I can't have those winged little bastards zipping around my grounds. And he's a Terra Imp. Doesn't get how things work down here, what with his kind and Ranks picking flowers together up there. The sooner I gift-wrap Blackstar, the sooner I get Bregun's fingers out of my business." Quincy's mind reeled back, from possibility to consequence. The thing that struck out most, to his surprise, was what Jess had said to him on Path 50. You don't fit, I'm sure you've heard before. Makes you... unexpected. Quincy subdued his tremors with a long breath.

    "I'll come with you," he managed to forge a calm he didn't remotely feel, the confidence of Blackstar the vigilante, "There's no need for us to be enemies. It's like you said, what I do doesn't matter here. I want to go topside, you want to send me there. I just need my face." Turning his back to Bragg, two feet away, completed the illusion. He took a bold, tense step towards the little thief. He waited for Bragg to seize him, but he didn't. Only the thief could see the horror petrified in Quincy's face. "You might need that thing more than I do now," he whispered. He grasped the boys's shirt by the shoulders. Quincy pulled him close enough to murmur the words that'd come with the bandanna, from his dad. "When you're so scared that you don't want to move... when the monsters close in on you, put that on. Be the bigger monster, scare them away." In one motion, Quincy dropped the boy, spun, and slung his telescope blade into Bragg's gut.

    He might as well have stabbed the ground. The handle kicked back in Quincy's hand when the steel shot into Bragg, who countered instantly with a swipe of his iron-club arm. Quincy lost vision for a second. It returned to bounce with his head, from the clay wall to the floor. The titan lumbered over, paying no more heed to the blade wedged in his stomach than a troublesome fly. He reached for the infamous Blackstar, only to have several of his fingers blasted off by the impact of a stolen gun-stick. It was still smoking when the little thief jammed it into Bragg's chest. His muscle swallowed the rounds and spat them right out. Quincy looked up from the three dripping fingers on the ground to the ones regrowing around the bones of Bragg's wounded hand. The second shot did little more than divert his attention, which was enough. Quincy grasped his telescope blade with both hands and slung himself between Bragg's feet. The weapon collapsed in his grip. Quincy slid inches beyond the General's grasping, half-formed fingers. The exposed bone seemed to glow a soft silver while Quincy crawled into a sprint. He shouldered through the Reachers, to the edge of the alley.

    "You idiot," hissed Crichton, wrenching Quincy aside into the mass of the crowd.

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