Walking alone down the sci-fi-esque corridors didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right that this was an emergency and he was hiding below ground. It didn’t feel right that the only thing different between today and any other day was that the lights were dimmer.
If this was a movie then the earth would be shaking, and he’d be stumbling down the hallway grasping at anything to remain upright. The lighting would be a dim red and flashing, and people would be running everywhere trying to fix what was obviously going wrong.
Seth didn’t see any of that as he worked his way through the HCP. He hardly saw anyone except a white-uniformed senior who told him to head to the gym.
Seth barely had to think as he worked his way toward the giant space, which wasn’t exactly a good thing. <That guy had half his fucking head blown off.>
It wasn’t every day that you walked into your living room and found a dude lying on the floor with shattered bone, blood spray, and fragments of brain-matter spewing from a giant open head wound. It was even more unlikely to find one of your barely conscious roommates only a few feet away, and it bordered on impossibility that his girlfriend would then arrive crying about how they’d been attacked.
<All of that on top of a terrorist attack.> Seth stopped to take a breath.
He wasn’t tired, but he still felt like an elephant had taken a dump on his chest. <And Liz is still out there.> He knew why Coach Meyers wouldn’t allow her down into the HCP, but the logic was overridden by the fear of someone busting into that cafeteria and shooting everyone up like swiss cheese.
Honestly, Seth didn’t know what he would do if he lost her.
“Seth!” People immediately started to call his name as he rushed through the double doors and into the gym.
The giant space still dwarfed the amount of people present, but it looked like most of the HCP was present. Or at least the portion that was still at school.
The seniors were helping to corral the students into their classes, and were getting a headcount. The three remaining class sizes varied, but everyone was wearing their uniforms.
“Abney, get your uniform on.” Coach McMillian seemed to be orchestrating the chaos, while Professor Livingston stalked through the students probably reading their minds.
<Stop dawdling and get suited up.> As if to prove a point, the professor’s voice resonated in his head. <We need to be ready at a moment’s notice.>
<Ready for what?> He didn’t get an answer to that until after he was changed and back with his class.
“As you all might know by now, shit has hit the fan out there.” Coach McMillian’s joking attitude had vanished like someone snuffed it out with a fire extinguisher. “Right now, our job is to sit tight and await further instructions. If need be, we’ll be acting as first responders or search and rescue. I’m going to break you all up into teams. Each team will be led by one of the seniors. I want you to get together, familiarize yourselves with each other’s abilities, and make plans to deal with typical emergency situations. Hopefully, we won’t be needed, but we’ll be ready if we are.”
“Hey, where were you?” Mason and Kyoshi pushed through the gathered freshman. “You’re the last one here.”
“You won’t believe this.” Seth told them about what had happened, that Liz was freaking out, Becca was getting treated by medics, and Anika was gone.
Kyoshi nearly broke down when she heard Anika had been grabbed, but she held it together. Mason, the gentle-giant, looked like he wanted to rip someone’s head off. With him, that wasn’t an exaggeration.
“Hey, where’s Angela?” Seth looked around and spotted the angelic shifter pouting in a corner.
“Her mom is out there fighting these assholes, her dad was killed by one of those assholes, and she’s stuck in here with the faint possibility that we might be able to go out when this is all over and pick through rubble looking for survivors.” Kyoshi paraphrased.
“Yeah, I guess I’d be pretty pissed too.” Seth looked at it from the other girl’s perspective.
“Abney, you’re with me.” A stocky boy in a white uniform walked over toward him. “I need the members of my team to pay attention or someone could get hurt.”
“Sorry.” Seth’s apology didn’t come off very apologetic. “I’ll be right there.” He turned back to his friends, roommates, and people he’d sweated out the freshman year of the HCP with. “Be careful, please.”
Mason just nodded. The motion conveying all the emotions the big man was feeling. Kyoshi was a bit different. She could feel Seth’s fear, trepidation, excitement, and worry. Her eyes watered, and she opened her mouth to say something, but then snapped it shut after nothing came out. After a second she mirrored Mason’s nod.
That was good enough for Seth. He walked over to the senior, who was tapping his foot like an impatient grade-school teacher.
“Ok, let’s do this.”
Things were getting hot and heavy quick, and not in a good way. Wraith and Armsman had escaped from their short fight with Seraphim, but that didn’t mean they were out of the woods yet. Technically, they were adjacent to the woods right now. Their third fallback position was behind where her father and Seif al-Din were about to take on the Heroes, and they arrived just in time to see the whole fucking world explode.
Dirt, trees, and even a metal man when flying in every direction. Windows shattered as fire raced to engulf everything. The concussive blast felt like someone took a hammer to her, but Lilly shook it off.
<Boom goes the dynamite motherfuckers.> Her laugh got overridden by a cough as the dust and debris started to settle back down.
The third position didn’t have the vantage point of the second, or at least it didn’t a few seconds ago. Now, Lilly had a pretty clear shot at her father and the Heroes from the side yard of the house she was standing next to.
“Get ready.” Armsman dropped the large rifle he’d been using and pulled his katana out of its scabbard.
Lilly was about to ask what he meant when the enemy arrived, and she got her answer.
<If we can see them, then they sure as shit can see us.>
Four men in fatigues appeared out of nowhere in front of them and immediately went on the attack. One immediately disappeared, leaving just three, but that still left them outnumbered. Also, being flexcuffed at the ankle limited their tactical options.
One man’s hands crackled with electricity and he lunged at Armsman. The aged villain took it like a man. He rolled with the punch as it grazed his face. The soldier obviously thought it was going to put the old man on his ass. He didn’t expect for the electricity surging through him to zap out of existence the moment he punched him.
And he sure as shit didn’t expect Armsman to step into him and impale him with the sword.
“They never fucking learn.” Armsman unsheathed the sword from the surprised looking soldier’s chest with a loud sucking sound.
The soldier stood upright for a second before toppling over. That gave Lilly enough time to reach for her guns.
She brought them up, but couldn’t get a shot off before a blur of camouflage slapped the gun from her hand.
<Ugh…I fucking hate speedsters.>
The soldier in question skidded to a stop, his boots grinding up perfectly manicured grass.
<Well, at least he’s got limits.> The cool skidding move wasn’t for show. The guy literally couldn’t turn as his super speed, so he had to run quickly in straight lines, stop, reorient, and then attack again. Lilly could work with that.
But not attached to Armsman like they were a two-person chain gang.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Armsman hissed as Lilly whipped out a knife, kneeled, and cut through the flexcuff in one smooth motion.
“Sure, Reaper might suck the life out of me, but if I can’t move Speedy McSpeederton over there is going to whoop my ass anyway.” Lilly straightened just as the speedster looked ready to strike again.
The third soldier looked content to keep his distance and force the two villains to split their attention.
“Your funeral, kid.” Armsman kept his eyes on the threat. He might love Lilly like blood, but if it was his ass or hers, his won every time.
“Ready…move.” The speedster vanished, and so did Lilly, plunging the whole area into darkness.
She appeared behind the third soldier. Nobody could see, feel, or hear anything but her. The speedster had stopped when the lights had gone out. The third soldier remained rooted in place, and Armsman was running through a precise set of forms to ensure no one caught him off-guard.
<I can work with that.> Lilly planted her foot into the third soldier’s lower back.
The man, caught totally by surprise, stumbled forward into Armsman’s powerful swing. The darkness dissipating replaced the eerie calm with the screams of the man. The old supervillain’s sword was buried deep in the man’s thigh. He yanked it out, and with a simple flourish decapitated the soldier.
“I need back up, I’ve got two men down.” The speedster had sped away to get some distance while still keeping an eye on the two villains.
Lilly didn’t hear the reply, but she felt it. The round punched her in the back like the hand of fucking God. Her tech genius designed body armor saved her life, but that didn’t stop it from hurting like a motherfucker.
Her scream snapped Armsman’s head in her direction at about the same time Seraphim landed back in their midst. This time the demon woman didn’t wait, she whipped her tail around and launched her barbs. The target was Armsman as the perceived greater threat. Lilly would have taken more offense to being considered the less dangerous one, but she was too busy rolling on the ground in pain.
“Nice try.” The barbs turned to dust the moment they touched Armsman. They didn’t even pierce his clothing.
“Worth a shot.” Seraphim produced her own blade and started to circle Armsman. “I’ve always wanted to take you down. People talk about you like you’re the boogeyman. All I see is an old man trying to stay in the game long past his prime.”
Lilly chuckled painfully at Seraphim’s attempt to get into Armsman’s head. That place was already fucked up beyond anything the Hero could imagine, which explained why Armsman laughed off her goading like it was a polite joke at a dinner party.
“Hush, little girl. If you run off and let the big boys play, then I won’t chop you up into sushi.”
Seraphim bristled at the comment. She probably hadn’t been called a little girl in thirty years.
Lilly slowly started to regain her breath, but she stayed down. Either a sniper had taken a shot at her, or there was a ranged combat Super with the ForceOps crew. Either way she didn’t want to give the guy a second shot.
<Ok, so we need to kill Seraphim, then get Dad and Seif al-Din, and then get the fuck out of here.> That had been the plan. Draw in a lot of Heroes, ambush them, fuck’em up a little, do a fighting retreat, and then get out.
Lilly had already captured the objective, so there wasn’t much else to do other than rampage, rape, and pillage a little. And the other terrorist teams were likely taking care of those parts if they weren’t dead already.
“This is fun and all, but I’ve got better places to be.” Lilly rolled, pulled one of her Glock’s from it holster, and unloaded on Seraphim.
Since it wasn’t the electromagnetic rifle the shots barely budged the woman.
“What’s wrong, Wraith. You blow your whole load on that last shot.”
The shots might not have hurt, but they took the demon’s attention off Armsman for a split second. He sprung at her. Their swords met in a clash of steel, but that wasn’t the most impressive part. Seraphim was able to bat the old villain’s blade away with her superior strength, but it left her vulnerable. Armsman abandoned the blade in favor of a grapple, trapping the Hero’s extended arm between them so she couldn’t reverse her attack and bisect him. With a different opponent, she would have been able to do just that, but the second Armsman got a hold of her a ripple went through her body. One moment the old nullifier was grappling with a tall, strong, winged demon creature and the next a woman stood in her place.
Her face was still masked, but Lilly spotted vulnerability in her eyes as Armsman overpowered her and they both went crashing to the ground.
<Gotta kill that bitch.> Lilly tried to get a clean shot with her gun, but Seraphim and Armsman were too busy rolling around on the ground and fighting for position.
The ground shuddered like another explosion had torn into the park, but this time there was no fire and debris. A second shudder a few seconds later, and a shadow passed over the three Supers.
Lilly couldn’t help herself. She peeked behind her to take a look just as the world exploded in an ear-splitting roar.
Daisy had him. She had Hellgate by the balls and they both knew it. It was a surreal experience that she’d been waiting decades to feel. She’d fought this asshole dozens of times. Sometimes it was small scuffles like the disaster at the Sprout coffee shop. Other times it was a presidential assassination attempt like the first Memorial Day parade. Until now, the man had always been too slippery, or had been hiding behind Armsman.
<Not this time, fucker.>
As sweet and savory as the emotions flooding through her were, she uncharacteristically hesitated. The old Reaper would have torn the experienced supervillain’s life thread to shreds and watched him die with no remorse. But that wasn’t Daisy anymore. That wasn’t what she had become, and she didn’t want to go back.
<Things are…better now.> She hesitantly described her life.
She thought of Topher, her fellow HCP professors, her friends, and even some of her more tolerable students. She didn’t want to throw all that away.
<Where the hell is Dispatch when you need her.> Daisy didn’t have a clue where her earpiece had been blasted to during the explosion, and she knew she couldn’t take her eyes off the villain to find it.
<Leeching it is.> She finally decided, and squeezed.
Hellgate immediately doubled over and made retching noises.
<Gross.> She’d puked in her mask before when a criminal messed with her inner ear.
The man reached up with trembling hands to lift his mask just enough for the chunks of food and bile to spill out. Whatever frightening effect his devil mask had on Daisy at one time vanished with that image. <I wish I had a camera.> She could have shattered the illusion of the legendary villain in one thirty second YouTube video.
Daisy was so busy thinking about what she should be doing with Hellgate that she forgot her own rule that she’d drilled into the freshman all year long.
Iron Giant had smashed into Seif al-Din like a humanoid missile, but then she’d lost track of them. Now that was going to come back and take a chunk out of her well-toned ass.
The sudden shudder or the ground made her move for cover at first. She thought someone was still launching RPG’s into the park. But then a second shudder made several nearby tree corpses shudder. And then an ear-splitting roar nearly knocked her off her feet.
She turned around as a shadow fell over her and almost pissed herself.
Seif al-Din had arrived. Not the handsome, charismatic middle aged terrorist leader with his expensive suits and talk of killing the Zionist imperialists. No, this was the Seif al-Din that nations feared. This was the creature that destroyed part of New York and took nearly an entire Hero team with him. This was the creature that Daisy was supposed to kill if given the go ahead.
Seif al-Din was a healer with adaptive shifting, which meant his shifted form healed into something stronger when it was injured. What resulted after a decade or two of fighting everything from Mosad assassins to the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams tank was a nightmare.
The thing stood roughly fifty feet tall, but it was hard to tell with all the trees in the area cut down to size by the initial explosion. His legs were thicker than the three remaining tree trunks put together, but still looked humanoid, with the exception that his skin looked like a bad patchwork quilt. The majority of his flesh looked like a mix between gray stone and scales, but Daisy got the impression that it was strong. Other parts were the tan of his normal flesh, while others were charred black. She didn’t know what the difference was, and she didn’t have time to think.
One of his feet was descending toward her with the intent of squashing her like a bug. The foot was normal for a human, despite the size, except for the big toe. That toe curled into a giant claw that dug into the dirt where Daisy had been standing before jumping away.
The jump saved her life, and it also helped against the strain that her full kinetic battery was taking on her. She went from feeling like her soul was being stretched to the breaking point to extreme discomfort.
“Reaper.” Despite the grotesqueness of the creature trying to curb stomp her, it’s voice retained the culture, accented voice of the terrorist leader. “It has been quite a few years since I’ve looked down on you like this.”
Unlike last time, this time Daisy actually got to see his face. And she almost puked.
His head looked more insectoid than human or reptilian. A dozen eyes dotted a round, vaguely human shaded head. The adaptation gave him a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of his surroundings, so if he was paying attention there was no way to sneak up on him. It was a great tactical advantage, but she had to believe it must give him a headache.
“I made you a promise last time, and I’m here to make good on it.”
The creature’s maw opened and spoke, revealing razor sharp teeth perfect for tearing flesh from bone. His nostrils weren’t more than tiny slits above that, and it left Daisy wondering how the creature got enough oxygen to stay alive.
“Are you just going to sit there and blabber or are you going to fight you giant fucking Jurassic Park reject!” Daisy couldn’t help but taunt the beast.
“Very well.” The thing smiled and she could see its giant, bulging muscles coil and prepare to spring its death trap for her.
And that left her in another conundrum. Did she let Hellgate go to focus on the more dangerous threat, or did she eliminate him so he couldn’t stab her or the other Heroes in the back once he got his shit together?
She had to move before she made the decision because she didn’t want to be a pancake. Seif al-Din sprang at her and it felt like a mountain suddenly grew legs to stomp on the nearby villagers. Thankfully, Daisy wasn’t alone in this.
Seif al-Din saw it coming, but there wasn’t much he could do in midair. Iron Giant smacked into the creature’s ribs. The impact rocked the world like a thunderclap. The unstoppable thing meeting the unmovable object, but Seif al-Din didn’t scream out in pain. He gave a grunt and snapped at the metal man who’d practically imbedded himself the terrorist’s torso. Thunderclap after thunderclap rocked the clear sky of Orlando as the Hero unloaded his powerful punches on the beast.
John could have been screaming his defiance or years of built up rage as he hammered Seif al-Din back into the ground. Buildings shook and collapsed from the impact. Then he started to drive the creature back away from Daisy and the rest of the Heroes.
That gave her a second to think, but there wasn’t much she had to think about. The threat was clear and the danger was present. She couldn’t allow Hellgate to just walk away from this, or let him bring his teleportation back into the fight. It was too dangerous, and one misstep from Daisy or John could leave any number of Heroes, soldiers, or innocent civilians dead.
She knew what she had to do.
Hellgate was about a hundred yards away and struggling back to his feet. She’d been forced to stop leeching from him to concentrate on Seif al-Din, but John had bought her the time she needed.
She turned back toward Hellgate, found his life line standing lonely and alone in her mind’s eye, and grabbed it for a second time. But this time it would be the last.
<Fuck me.> Lilly couldn’t help but be impressed by the sheer size of the beast rising up from the shattered remains of the park. <I do not one be on that thing’s bad side.> She made a mental note to apologize to the monster for some of the comments she’d made, but not all of them. Some of them, especially toward the misogynistic fucktard Damascus were warranted.
“Son of a bitch!” Armsman hollered from behind her.
The hand-to-hand combat expert had succeeded in getting Seraphim into a headlock, but the women had buried her teeth into his forearm and was busy trying to chew his arm off.
“Let me get a shot!” Lilly felt adrenaline pump into her as she aimed her Glock at the struggling pair. “Come on, Armsman, I got the husband, let me have the wife too.”
The old man looked a little annoyed at her childish exuberance, but he released the woman and dove to the side. Immediately, it looked like the woman started to melt.
“Gross!” Lilly yelled as she pulled the trigger and emptied the entire clip into a real-life example of the wicked witch of the west’s demise.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Armsman roared as the melting finished and a winged Seraphim launched herself back into the air.
It wasn’t a flawless leap. One wing looked like it was struggling to hold up her weight, she wasn’t flying straight, and quite a few large drops of blood fell back down to the ground as she struggled to gain altitude and escape.
“Yeah, you better run.” Lilly reloaded and fired off a few more rounds at the Hero’s retreating back, but it was beyond her pistol’s range and she didn’t hit shit.
Still, it felt good to kick Seraphim’s ass this time.
Armsman didn’t look so happy. “You let the bitch get away!”
“I fucking shot her full of holes!” Lilly held up the empty magazine. “It’s not my fault she can fucking melt like that. That’s creepy as fuck, but I bet she’s going to be out of the fight for a bit.”
Lilly looked around for more threats just as the sky seemed to crack open around them. She looked up, thinking some military jet was breaking the sound barrier on an attack run, but all she saw was the giant creature stumbling back as a gleaming metal figure a fraction of its size pounded away at its chest.
<That can’t be good.> They were heading in their direction.
“We need to go.” Lilly grabbed her uncle’s hand and they vanished out of the duo’s destructive path.
They reappeared close to their second fallback position, which had a much better view of the park now that most of the trees where shattered husks.
What she saw made her heart stop.
Her father was a few hundred yards from her, struggling to get to his feet. Less than a football field away from him was Reaper. The Hero’s head was moving back and forth between the beast being beaten backward by her ally and Lilly’s father. She couldn’t see the conflict on the Hero’s face, but her focus on Hellgate instead of Seif al-Din sent flashed crimson warning signs in Lilly’s mind.
Then, her father who was standing with his hands on his knees collapsed.
She didn’t even think. She teleported to her father’s side in a blast of expanding darkness. Before the darkness had dissipated, she had him in her arms, and a second blast took them back to where Armsman was waiting to put his protective hands on both of them.