When Jake brought his attention back to the rooftop, he found that another had joined him. Someone Jake didn’t recognize. He blinked. It felt like cycles upon cycles had passed since he had seen someone new.
The newcomer hovered above the ground, his feet hanging downward, relaxed. For a moment, Jake thought he was unclothed, but no — the man was covered in armor woven of strips of a flat, gold-colored material. His long hair flowed free behind him, shifting despite the lack of wind, but other than that, only his eyes were uncovered. His whole body had a faint golden glow, but the eyes shone with a brilliant, electric blue light.
In one hand, the man held a quarterstaff, formed of a solid piece of what appeared to be the same material as his armor. Where his hand gripped the staff, it was round, but the last few feet of either end were more ovoid, like a blade dulled to the extreme. Just above the man’s hand, set into the quarterstaff as though it were perfectly natural, another brilliantly blue eye stared at Jake.
“Hi,” Jake said, feeling embarrassed that this man he didn’t know had probably heard his outburst, while also hoping that he was a man at all. Something about him felt inhuman. Jake shifted. He wanted to get a feel for the man, rather than just attacking him, but he had to be ready.
The golden man did not speak. He sped forward through the air, moving straight toward Jake. His feet remained that same distance above the ground. He brought his staff up, gripping it in both hands, ready to strike when he came in range.
Jake barely had time to whip his spear brush off of his back. He brought it around to deflect the blow. With green paint, he rooted himself to the ground, improving his footing. The quarterstaff clanged against the haft of his brush.
Jake grunted. The golden man remained silent. He brought the staff around again, easily, striking at Jake with the other end. Jake caught the blow with his spear brush once more. This time, he used the force of the blow to slide backward on pure blue paint, hoping to move out of range of the golden man’s attacks.
White paint marbled with red left a trail through the air where the bristles of his weapon dragged through it. A touch of green paint brought him to a stop again. The golden man slipped forward, ducking around the floating paint. He couldn’t know what it was. That was to Jake’s advantage.
Of course, the golden man had the instinct to avoid the paint, but not by wide enough of a margin. Jake ignited the red paint. It flared up in a burst of flame. Diluted as it was by the white paint, the results were less explosive than pure red paint would have produced.
The golden man spun away to Jake’s right, moving away from the floating line of fire. He made no sound. His hair had been singed on one side, yet he seemed otherwise unharmed. The armor must have protected him. He advanced, expressionless.
Jake wished he had a moment to back up and consider his options. One of his normal strategies, painting the ground, would do nothing against a foe who hovered. He could try another burst of flame — after all, no matter how dodgy the fellow was, if Jake kept putting paint between them, he couldn’t avoid it forever.
Jake backed up, using alternating, varied amounts of blue and green paint to skate across the smooth surface of the roof, giving himself just enough traction to push off with the green paint and then emitting blue paint to glide. As he moved, from his spear brush and his free hand, he left a trail of white-and-red paint.
The golden man circled, keeping his distance from the floating paint. Near the edge of the roof, Jake turned. The golden man slipped downward, almost as though he were falling on a patch of Jake’s blue paint. But no, he moved with intention. He brought his whole body close to the ground, sliding through the air less than a foot above the rooftop, far below where he would take any harm from the ignited paint.
He moved back upward with a flowing ease, mere feet from Jake. His quarterstaff lashed out, point first, thrusting like a spear. The whole move, from slipping under the paint to attack, took less time than Jake could react. The quarterstaff struck him in the center of the chest. He felt something crack.
Instinctively, Jake transitioned to pure blue paint from his feet, letting him slide backward from the blow. It took some small amount of effectiveness from the blow. He also ignited the floating paint. The arc of fire bloomed in the air, bright and hot. Jake closed his eyes. He let the force of the blow carry him to the edge of the roof. He flipped over.
He slid his hand up the haft of his brush as he curled up, flipping over. With his free hand coated in paint, he slapped the wall. The rest of his body swung around. His feet and the tip of his spear brush met the wall. With blue paint, mixed with a hint of green, he slid toward the ground.
Jake’s breaths came only with pain and difficulty. The golden man’s blow had broken or at least cracked something in his chest. He hoped the man hadn’t seen him fall, or if he had, that he assumed Jake would die from the fall.
As he slid, Jake considered his options. White paint was somewhat effective, but it weakened whatever it was mixed with, enough so that the golden man’s armor was keeping him from much harm from the flames of Jake’s red paint. Perhaps yellow paint could work, but he would have to paint it directly on the man for the electricity to affect him — the same was true of orange and brown. Violet and black needed to touch flesh to function, so the armor meant those were out.
Jake looked up just in time to see the golden man pursuing him, floating next to the wall as he had done with the floor. Jake swore. He swept his hand to the side, stuck it firmly to the wall with green paint, and swung sideways. The golden man shot past. His quarterstaff clipped Jake’s ear. Jake gasped in pain.
Just below him, a window lead into the building. Jake twisted around, planting both feet and his free hand on the wall, facing outward. His chest screamed at him in protest where the golden man had stuck him. He slid his hand down the haft of his brush-spear, using a bit of green paint to grip it by the very tip, and swung it downward with as much forced as he could muster. The metal ring around the end struck the window, shattering it.
Some glass rained downward toward the golden man, who had quickly switched directions, but most of it went inward. Jake let go with his hand and swung down, clinging to the wall with the tips of his toes and hoping for the best.
His shins banged against the border of the window as his body flipped through. He released his toes just in time to avoid ripping his shoes from his feet. He twisted in the air and brought his feet underneath him.
He had no time to be proud of himself for the maneuver. The golden man followed him inside with considerably more grace. He spun as he passed through the window, almost as if to mock Jake with the ease of his motion.
Jake rushed forward. He hoped to catch the golden man off guard by changing tactics. He swung his spear brush, coated liberally in brown paint. The golden man turned it aside easily with a motion of his staff. The overflowing brown paint splashed across the golden man’s chest.
Hoping to keep the golden man on the defense, Jake swung again and again. The bones of his chest felt as though they tore into his flesh with each blow. Yet every time he struck, the golden man wound up with a bit more paint splattered across his body.
Each drop of that brown paint would build up, and soon, Jake hoped, the golden man would feel its effects. The paint was heavy, far heavier than its volume or density would indicate. Heavier than an equivalent amount of most metals. The strength of the golden man’s blow hadn’t seem far beyond that of an average human. With luck, the weight would slow him down.
Teeth clenched, Jake maneuvered his blow to be deflected on purpose. As the golden man’s quarterstaff pushed at the spear brush, Jake slid its bristles along the staff, coating one side of it in brown paint.
The golden man’s arm shifted downward. For the first time, he showed some hint of emotion. He glanced down at the staff, then back to Jake. What jake could see of his expression didn’t changed, but Jake chose to read his glance as surprise or fear.
Jake laughed. He found his mood inexplicably improved. Even the pain in his chest dulled somewhat. He had worried about his chances, but now, a hint of confidence filled him. He redoubled his attack, swapping the brown paint for orange. The weight of the quarterstaff slowed it. For every attack the staff intercepted, Jake was able to land a blow, leaving a streak of violent orange across the golden man’s body.
An odd euphoria filled Jake, a carefree lightheadedness like that which came from a good night of drinking with friends. When the golden man slapped Jake’s spear brush aside and the quarterstaff swung around to clip the side of Jake’s head, Jake only laughed as he fell to the ground. His spear brush clattered across the wooden floor, out of his reach, but for some reason, he found that amusing.
The golden man hovered above his prone form. Jake’s paint had eaten through the man’s armor, exposing the flesh, which had begun to dissolve beneath the paint as well. The golden man showed no hint of pain. He held his staff out in one hand, gripping it by its center, and then released it, palm flat. The staff spun like the blade of a helicopter. A good portion of the brown paint flew free. Jake laughed again. Everything seemed funny, suddenly, like this whole place was one big joke.
Wait. That meant something, didn’t it? He had a hard time remembering, but this feeling, like drunkenness mixed with euphoria, felt familiar. He couldn’t focus long enough to think why.
The golden man hovered over him now, seemingly unaffected by whatever was affecting Jake. He barely seemed to notice the wounds on his body, which worsened with every second as the caustic orange paint ate into him. He held the staff over Jake’s face, ready to slam it down.
Then a knife, held by a long-fingered hand, appeared in the golden man’s neck, where Jake’s paint had eaten through his armor. He turned, twisting his staff in his hands, eerily unaffected. Another knife met him in the eye, sinking hilt-deep into his face. He crumpled, falling heavily onto Jake’s stomach.
Jake coughed. “Telline,” he said. The woman stood over him, clad in a flowing blue wrap that contrasted with the rusty orange color of her fine scales. Jake smiled. “I should have know it was you.”
Telline looked down at him, pity clear in her eyes. Despite her elongated face, which gave her a lizard-like appearance; despite her elongated ears, which twitched in response to far-away sounds; despite the leathery, scaled hide that covered her instead of flesh, Telline’s eyes were human. “I’m sorry, Jake,” she said.
“Why?” he asked, his smile still on his face.
Telline frowned at the golden man. The hand holding his quarterstaff seemed to be trying to move. She stabbed one of her daggers into the eye at the center of the staff. It stopped.
“For this,” she said. She knelt. Jake admired her grace and ease.
“You’re nice,” he said, even as she slipped one of her daggers into his heart.
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