Major Players: Explosion

  Most Adaptations were decently well rounded gifts, giving a mix of defensive ability and offensive capacity at the same time: people like Dragoon and Toolkit could make creative solutions to most problems, Eldritch could make himself stronger and more durable through sheer size, and I could use the strengthening of my body to be inflict or endure a heavy hit.   

And then there were people like Shockwave.

If someone took aim and put a bullet in his brain, he was done.  There was no regeneration for him, no toughened skin, nothing. But…what he sacrificed defensively was more than compensated for with his absurd offensive capacity.  Possibly scarier still was how fast he could read his opponents and figure out their patterns; Shockwave had lost a fight with Beleth once when those two behemoths clashed but managed to keep himself alive.  In a rematch, he’d been able to keep Beleth on the back foot the whole time. Time and time again he had proved that the longer a fight went against him, the lower your chance of winning.

“Kudzu, go get Mizu and take his ass inside.  He’s gonna need some painkillers when he comes to.”  As she ran by, I got up slowly and was petrified as his head snapped to the source of movement in his peripheral vision.  “Oh, I almost missed you thanks to your big monster.” As he waved to me in sarcastic greeting, his hand began to glow.

My body locked in place, paralyzed with fear.  He had nonchalantly thrown my friend—who weighed 50 times what I did—all the way to the street.  Even with my passenger guarding my organs, I didn’t want to discover the outcome when he finally released the energy he was collecting in his right hand.

Shockwave was the epitome of a pure Projector.  His gift was simple: he stored energy in his hands and released it.  The longer he held it, the more difficult it became for him to hold without his fingers breaking, but it had more payoff.  You could get an idea for how much impact you were in for based on how bright his hands were; as his digits grew in luminosity my panic followed suit.  

But before he could send me to the afterlife, he turned and blasted the energy to deflect a yellow blur.  I turned to follow Shockwave’s glare and saw Eldritch getting up off the car he’d flattened; he’d torn a door off and returned fire against the Projector.  

“It looks like you have some fight left in you,” Shockwave laughed as both his hands charged with potential energy.  “No wonder Collision couldn’t bring you down.”

Shockwave threw one hand forward and then the other; both ripples of energy hit my friend and shot him across the street, into the car that was pressed halfway into the diner.  Eldritch slamming into it pushed it the rest of the way through. Still, the hulking Neklim pulled himself free of the rubble, roaring in protest. “Well, I’ll be damned,” Shockwave said, turning to me with a wild light in his eyes, “Your friend is a beast!”  He turned, “Ironclad, come kill this one, I am gonna have some fun with the monster man!”

I wasn’t sure which horrified me more: the fact he’d casually called for my execution, or the fact that he was planning to enjoy himself while he blasted apart my best friend.  

As Eldritch ripped himself away from the building, I saw him flick an arm one way, gesturing down the road.  

Dragoon.  She was still fighting with Collision.  

While I wasn’t happy about Shockwave gleefully charging up another volley of concussive blasts for my friend to endure, I was happy his attention wasn’t on me.  As I bolted forward, I narrowly avoided a chunk of rubble being lobbed at my head.

While Shockwave didn’t care about me saving my teammate, Ironclad was done with being overlooked.  

“Where the fuck are you going?” he growled, his forehead still not quite back to normal from where I had stove his head in.

There were at least three times in the last fifteen minutes that I should have been crushed to death but I was still on my feet.  Fighting Ironclad would just exhaust what little strength I had left. “Get out of my way or I’m gonna have to bend your fucking face in again,” I spat, hoping to antagonize.  “Dragoon,” I whispered, “If you can send your drone over to me, do it.”

I was tired.  Being suffocated had given me an extra hit of adrenaline, but I had been abusing my passenger with how much damage it had mitigated.  There was no way I could have a prolonged fight with him and bend his face out of shape enough to take him out of the fight for a while.

The next best thing was tie him up and make him immobile.   

“Okay,” was her curt reply.  I could only catch glimpses of what was happening over there, but it likely wasn’t going well for her; her first bout with Collision had been awfully close but this time he hadn’t had any real pressure put on him.  Even though he had thrown a lot at Eldritch, Dragoon had been smacked about by Mizu and Ironclad which had her gasping for air.

Around the fringes, most were longer spectating.  While it was fun to see Adapted fight, fun to witness the spectacle of a huge brawl like this, someone like Shockwave made it exponentially more dangerous.  

His raw power could threaten to simply level a building if he got pissed off; most with sense vacated to prevent being caught in any artificial landslide.  Only the most stalwart people hung around the periphery, and I could swear I saw a younger guy with black hair walking forward, creeping in, like he wanted a closer look at the elusive Imperium champion.  

Turning back to Ironclad, I rushed forward, letting go of my concern for the idiots who were hanging around.  Right now, my priority was getting Dragoon clear and figuring out a way to save Eldritch.

Ducking under a hook, I jammed my staff into his knee, forcing him down.  As soon as he was off balance, I dropped the staff and flung myself onto his back.  My arms snaked under his and trapped him in a full nelson as the little robot approached.  Ironclad tried to stand up, but I pulled as hard as possible and tripped the metal man.

While it kept him immobile and let me trap his legs, it did mean I had an 800kg man land on my chest.  

I needed the strength to keep him from slipping free which limited how much my passenger could help absorb the blow.  A cry escaped my lips as several ribs cracked under his weight, but I refused to let go as the drone began scurrying around his feet, binding his ankles together despite his protest.  

“You little fucking coward,” he snarled.  “The second I’m out, I’m gonna rip your fucking-“

I jammed my staff into his mouth and set my jaw, no longer smiling.  “Fuck. You.” I ripped it free and slammed it against the bridge of his nose, again denting part of his face before springing away and evading his grasp.  

My breath caught as I saw Eldritch get thrown into the parking lot in front of the slum.  Shockwave was slowly walking forward, charging his hand; he casually blasted the slab of rubble that Eldritch threw back at him before blasting my friend back into the side of a van that basically collapsed around him.  

Even though he was basically built to withstand blunt trauma, he wouldn’t last long against that kind of abuse.  And I had suggested we let Shockwave run himself out of juice; what the fuck had I been thinking?

Vaulting over one of the many thrashed vehicles Collision had used thrown around, I finally got a good look at the downhill engagement that my friend was caught up in.  There was no forward momentum, no attempt to mount an offensive, just a girl in power armor trying her best to not fall over.

She was hurt, favoring her left side as Collision continued to pelt her with scrap metal that he could whip around fast enough she couldn’t evade, basically creating a small storm of metal and debris.  “Hey!” I shouted as I launched myself at the Projector, hoping to buy her a moment of breathing room.

Collision turned his large frame and stepped back, narrowly avoiding me slamming my staff down on his head.  But his shock wore off as his torrent of projectiles changed focus to me. Normally, I might have been able to dance around him and bait his shots… but I was too tired and sluggish.  A car tire hit my legs and up-ended me; while I did land on my hands, a door found my midsection and tossed me back into the middle of the street.

Dragoon had taken the minute of breathing room to refill her zip gun, but he hardly seemed concerned as he dragged a car between them, making his own cover.  

I got up to my feet and was immediately subject to repeat assault via rubble that Kudzu had broken free from creating her forest.  A chunk caught the side of my head and saw me stagger, my equilibrium disrupted for a moment before a car slapped into me and knocked me back towards the distillery, back towards Shockwave.  

Turning, I saw the Projector furrow his brow and shift his stance.   He was agitated, annoyed that something could take so much punishment and show no signs of damage.  His posture and what little I could see of his face effused discontent; I liked seeing that look in someone’s eye in a fistfight because it meant they were off kilter and easy to predict.  

But if Siphon was annoyed, he was only going to up his output and stress test my friend.  

As he charged both hands, something stuck out to me.  His palms were open, not in a closed fist like they had been so far.  Shockwave was going to change the flavor of blast he would hit my friend with and Eldritch had no way to stop him.

Grabbing a spare bit of broken cement, I threw it and nicked his arm to skew his aim, right before he clapped his hands together.  As soon as his palms touched, a visible wave of energy shot out like a missile, smacking aside cars through the parking lot and eventually coming into contact with the slum.  

The instant it did, it erupted into a cone of demolition that ripped through several walls in the blink of an eye.  

As tough as Eldritch was, I didn’t want to see what would have happened if he’d taken that headon.  

Imperium’s heavy hitter turned to me and glared, charging a hand for a quick moment before thrusting his fist my direction.  I tried to dodge but was still tagged in the midsection. As the little distortion of air popped, I found myself hurtling backwards and crashing through a window.  

The next thing I was dimly aware of was coming to amidst a scattered pile boxes.

I tried to get up to my feet but stumbled and fell back to the floor, the world still spinning as my head throbbed.  Blood was flowing down my scalp and my whole body screamed in agony. While the spider silk had kept glass from lacerating, it didn’t help take the blow Shockwave had slammed me with.

The passenger had manage to reduce impact enough to let me live, and was now hastily forcing ribs back into place while feverishly accelerating cell growth.  It was like my torso was trying to light on fire as bones knit in seconds instead of weeks. This wasn’t something my metabolism could handle, and I’d have to check later with Dragoon to see if this did any lingering damage.  

Again I tried to get up, again I flopped to the floor of an electronics store that had been down the road.  Dragging myself across the floor, I aimed towards a chair that I could use to help get to my feet.

It was sheer dumb luck that had kept me alive.  If Shockwave had shot me into a brick wall or something with less give than shelf of computer parts packaged with bubble wrap, I would be a corpse.  If he had his a limb or my head, he would have torn it off and the blood loss would have killed me. Even so, even with the miraculous and almost pillowesque crash pad I was given, it had taken all the wind out of my sails and sapped all the will to fight out of me.

He hadn’t even charged it all the way up.  I was given maybe a one-third dose of what Eldritch was enduring.      

“You’re not looking so hot, Parasite,” a condescending voice called as the door opened, ringing a little bell.  I gave a look and saw heavy boots…and a black and white mask. “Maybe you shouldn’t have pissed off the boss man.”

I groaned as he grabbed me by the collar and started dragging me away.  I tried to fight, but my passenger wasn’t able to give me any assistance; it was dedicated to damage control, trying to stop the internal bleeding brought on from the trauma to my torso.    

Never mind that I wasn’t going to be needing my lungs, heart, or anything else rattling around in my chest soon.  

What perplexed me was that Siphon hadn’t killed me yet.  

“What are you doing,” I managed to groan weakly as my head started to clear.  

“Ironclad has a flair for the dramatic.  He isn’t happy about you being a pain to him and wants to break you himself.  I just enjoy watching the big guy work.” He seemed to notice me carry more of my weight and perk up slowly as my  body gave me a feeble hit of adrenaline in desperation, “Don’t run. I feel you getting your feet back; you insist on being a pain I’ll flip on my power.”  

“You got it,” I mumbled as I tilted my head up to see what had happened in my absence.  

Eldritch was still on his feet, but it was peculiar seeing a Neklim that looked…punch drunk.  He was staggering around, unable to move in a completely straight line as Shockwave continued to pepper him with more targeted blasts.  While he had been agitated earlier, he seemed to be enjoying himself now that damage was clearly being dealt to my friend. Just as he had been able to modify his attack with the clap, he was able to focus energy into his fingertips for a more localized shot; he had started chipping away chunks of growth from Eldritch with one hand while repeatedly blasting his whole body with the other, keeping him unsteady.  

More concerning was the fact my friend was smaller; he’d either run out of mass to consume or he was so beaten up he properly use his Adaptation.  

Worse was Dragoon.  Ironclad had ripped free and she had been forced into a fist fight with him.  If she tried to run, Collision would smack her back towards the enforcer who was adding dents to her armor with every hit.  She tried to raise her arms to guard, he went low and slammed her torso; as my captain doubled over, he planted a hook into her helmet and she went down like a bag of rocks.  For good measure, he stomped on her side a few times before lifting her and throwing her against the ground as hard as he could.

She didn’t move, and there was no auditory cue that she was even alive in the suit.  

“Drag-“ I started before Siphon hauled me upright and pushed me forward.  

“Here you go, Iron,” he said with a laugh, “The second course!”

What blew my mind is that there were still people watching.  Shockwave showing up had scared off a lot of them, but many were still filming what had likely been my captains execution.  Cameras rolled as my friend was shot back into a wall before five small blasts ripped off his suit’s left arm. There was even a guy coming closer to record…

I think it was the same dude with black hair I had seen earlier.  Was I delusional or did he look… happy?

“Give him the staff,” Ironclad snapped at Siphon.  

The assassin opened my hand and slapped the four kilogram hunk of metal into my hand.  

Was it always this heavy?  

I twisted and it extended, but it felt so unwieldy as I raised it and took a swing at Ironclad.  

He blocked with laughable ease and didn’t even bother hitting me.  All he did was push and I tripped, falling onto my ass with no poise.  My balance and natural agility were shot, leaving me feeling painfully out of sorts.  

It was exactly how the end of my fight with Siphon had felt.  Right before I had been left at the mercy of a psychopath.

This time, there was no Dragoon to save me and bargain for my life.  

I got up to my feet, barely able to stand as Ironclad marched forward, smacking aside my staff and slapping me in the face.  My jaw threatened to dislocate and I fell back to the ground, dazed.

All my fitness and strength training hadn’t been enough to let me keep fighting after taking a single hit from Shockwave, and all of Eldritch’s size wouldn’t save him either.  Rogue Sentries were going to be another name of failed Reckoners who had stood against these madmen and had been cut down like dogs.

Ironclad grabbed my tunic and effortlessly dragged me up, hitting me in the stomach and cracking some of the ribs my body had fixed only moments ago.  Pivoting, he whipped me around and let me fly into the rear windshield of a parked car that had almost survived the carnage of the evening.  The glass spider-webbed under me as my vision blurred due to pain.  With effort, I ripped myself out of the divot and slid off the trunk of the car.  

“I told, you were out of your league,” Ironclad growled as he sauntered closer.  

Gritting my teeth, I avoided his first punch but couldn’t manage much more than weakly shoving against an adult-sized slab of steel.  He laughed as he shoved me back against the trunk of the car and drove a fist into my guts.

“But you had to prove yourself, didn’t you?”

I turned to glare at Ironclad, “Fuck. You.”

A metal fist slammed into my jaw and pitched me to the curb.  Without the cars intruding on my view, I could see everyone watching at the end of the block.  And I saw… the same guy. Closer this time. Dangerously close to Shockwave. For a moment, he simply stared at me.

Then a sly smile crept across his face, like he was in on a joke that no one else knew.  He winked at me slowly and raised a hand.

At first I thought he was waving, like saying goodbye since my time was definitely short but then he slowly drew a finger in… like he was counting down.  

Ironclad picked me up and heaved me back against the trunk.  “Ironclad,” I panted, “Behind you.”

For a moment, all of the Imperium members looked between each other, and then they laughed.  “Do you think we’re gonna fall for that?”

“Ironclad, there is an Adapted out of costume here.  I’m fucking serious! Please,” I begged, “Turn around.”  

While he didn’t let go of me, Ironclad did turn and see the oddly enthusiastic guy hit two on his finger counting.  “What the fuck?”

A new wash of adrenaline hit my veins and I pushed Ironclad’s hand off my tunic as the mysterious figure counted to one.  I rolled off the trunk of the car and threw myself underneath the chassis as the last finger closed.

And then everything exploded.  

Cars erupted in fireballs and several buildings around the arena we had made burst into flames as a thunderous BOOM shook the whole area.  Glass shattered and people screamed as chaos suddenly reigned supreme.  

A metal hand snaked under the frame and pulled me free.  “Did you fuckers do this?” Ironclad shouted in my face as he slammed me against the side of the car.

One of the cars that had detonated had been pushed in the middle of the road and had only been a stones throw from Siphon and Collision.  While Ironclad wasn’t at risk thanks to his composition, those two decidedly were. Both were stumbling forward, dazed, disoriented. Siphon’s suit had a few tears and the skin underneath was bright red from the sudden burst of  heat.

But the real damage was done to the strongest member of Imperium.  

Even though Shockwave had blasted away anything Eldritch threw back at him, this had completely blindsided him.  He was still recovering from the initial concussion, staggering back into the road with a sliver of metal embedded in his thigh.  Around his crimson suit, there were patches that darkened thanks to additional shrapnel nestling in.

As I looked, the man responsible was gone, but I knew exactly who it was.  

“Did you fuckers do this?” Ironclad asked again, slamming his fist into the trunk beside my head.

“No,” I replied, shaky, “We’re Reckoners!  You think we’d do shit like this?”

He glanced at the still form of Dragoon, “She could have set something up.”

“It wasn’t us!” I insisted, “That was Rig!  He was the one here out of costume!”

Ironclad withdrew like he had been bitten, “You sure?”

“Fucking look around!  This is what he does!”

He took a moment before letting go of my collar, “Don’t fuck with us.  Deal?”

“Deal,” I agreed hastily as I got to my feet and bent over to grab my staff.  

Rig was a member of another Adapted team that neither of us wanted anything to do with.

Vermin.  

While all but Beleth abstained from showing off their Adapted powers without a mask, someone like Rig would be willing to do it for effect and to gain the element of surprise.

After all, no one would ever expect an Adapted to do something like this out of a costume and risk compromising their identity.  But if they were a deluded criminal, all normal rules and trends quickly went out the window.

Rig’s gift was a mix of Peculiar and Projector.  When he touched inorganic objects, he could imbue a charge that would trigger when he did his ‘detonation sequence’; the longer he drew out the countdown, the stronger the blasts were.  

Since no one recognized him as an Adapted at all, there was no reason for him to hurry.  

He was a perfect fit for Vermin: he was psychotic, he had a power that lent itself to causing mayhem and pain, and he had a magnificent sense of timing that kept him from being caught.  Since they were hated by everyone, the ones who survived for any length of time in Vermin were dangerous bastards. A perfect description for Rig.

“But, they always operate in a group,” I whispered to myself as I stumbled over to Dragoon.  

Sure enough, where everyone else was trying to run, a handful of people surged forward, donning masks and hoods.

We thought Rogue Sentries was setting up to make Imperium look like a group of disorganized idiots; we’d only been the lure for Vermin to go fishing.  They were obsessed with killing the big names and Shockwave was one of the biggest and most elusive fish in the city.

And we’d brought him to a killing field.   

“Shockwave!  It’s been a while!” a manic voice screamed out across the confusion, seemingly amplified to be audible amidst the sounds of the havoc Rig had unleashed.  

I froze, knowing that voice only by reputation and from videos.  Rat, the head of Vermin, and the only consistent member for the last seven years, was a Peculiar/Enhancer combo.  When he used his Adaptation, he drew from the emotional energy of the area around him to augment his body. Unlike most who had some kind of body alteration, he wasn’t remotely consistent with what he changed into.

The only uniform aspect of any monstrous form he’d taken was that he didn’t go down.  Very few had beaten Rat, and none had ever managed to do any permanent damage to the psychotic freak.

Dropping from the roof of the general store, Rat had already started mutating.  His left arm was turned red and horrifically oversized while the right arm had transformed into a lengthy tentacle that dragged behind him.  The rest of Rat was the wrong consistency, as if his skin had been replaced with a layer of clay.

All of Shockwave’s casual demeanor had vanished as he stared down a real threat.  His hands began to charge…and then he took a step back, glancing around.

I was confused why he would do that, and then I realized that I had dropped my staff to the ground.  

What…was I even doing?

Dragoon.  Eldritch. My friends, I needed to get them out of here.  Vermin had set this up as an attempt on Shockwave’s life; if we didn’t get out now, we’d get swept up along and end up in the blender.  

“Dragoon,” I pleaded, “Come on, please be alive in there.”  Reaching under her arm, I dragged the suit of armor up to its feet, struggling to do so.  “Hey, Dragoon! Come on!”

“I’m alive, Parasite,” I heard in reply.  “Ironclad broke my power cell and beat the rest of me banged up enough that my auxiliary batteries broke.  The armor is heavy, but I can walk it inside if you get me up.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, “I don’t know how long you’ve been awake but-”

Rat came flying by us, slamming  into a car. Instead of properly transferring momentum though, his torso kind of squished against it and then congealed back together.  He wasn’t bothered, and was content to smile as he wrapped a tentacle around the vehicle and sling it back at Shockwave effortlessly.

“Vermin are-” she stopped mid sentence.

…what had we been talking about?

I was holding my friend’s power armor.  That was right, we needed to get out of here.  “We need to get Eldritch,” I insisted as I scooped up my staff, noticing it sitting on the ground again.  Why would I have left it there? I shook my head and slipped it into the pouch and helped her up.

“Where is he?”

“Last I saw, he was being meshed with the wall of the slum.  Come on.”

As we moved, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Rat leaping around before eating another blast from Shockwave, but the Imperium powerhouse hadn’t been able to get a full charge.  Rat was fast and seemed content to take the smaller hits that kept him at bay but couldn’t completely obliterate him.

But as he was hit one more time, I swore I saw him glance at us and sneer.  

He’d have bigger pro-

Why was I in this parking lot?       

“Dragoon,” I said, shaking my head, “What are we doing?”

“I don’t remember,” she replied.  And then a lightbulb seemed to flick on, “I-we need to get Eldritch!”

            How on earth could we be forgetting my best friend?  

“Something is fucking with our head,” I said to her.  “Like some Adapted is messing with our thoughts.”

“More reason for us to get out of here.”  

As we approached Eldritch, I was mortified.  His immense stature had been reduced from ten feet tall to only seven or so, and the left arm hadn’t regrown from where Shockwave surgically blasted it off.  While normally the tentacles formed a consistent lattice layer over my friend, they were all disorganized, buzzing independently and teeming like an angry swarm of bees.  

“Eldritch, buddy,” I muttered, “Come on.  You okay in there?”

There was a bit of a shift in the mass of tentacles, “Alive.  Can’t, control it completely. Stuff messing with my brain screwed up control and Shockwave’s beating weakened my hold.  Don’t get close, it’s really reactive.”

Dragoon tested it and moved forward, and I had to pull her away from a wild swing by the Neklim arm.  

“We gotta get you out,” I said, “Vermin showed up and Rat isn’t losing to Shockwave.  I think the other members are dealing with Imperium people, but I don’t know who…or where they are.”  

Around the distillery, flames still raged, a few more detonations by Rig being triggered to ensure that chaos and fear ripped through anyone close by.  Even if the police or Suppression wanted to show up, Rig being able to lay traps around the staging ground would keep anyone from interfering for a long time.

It ensured Rat had plenty of emotional energy to fuel his horrific transformation.  A glance showed me that his fight against Shockwave was going much too well for the psychopath.  There was some other Adapted with Rat who seemed to basically be made of tar that was chasing Siphon while Collision was trying to fight with some pyrokinetic that was pulling from the flames Rig had so kindly started.  Ironclad was trying to be a deterrent for Rat, but the weird malleable body seemed to make him nearly impervious to brute force.

And that massive red arm of his was strong enough to bitch slap Ironclad around like he weighed no more than a toy.  

“Eldritch, how can we help get you out?  We need to get inside and change out, go back to being regular people.  If we loiter, Vermin will just see us like another target, and I don’t know how long Imperium are going to hold out.”  

It was a little odd to be cheering for Imperium.  

“Need to snap control back.  Dragoon, I need you to shoot me; I think the threat to the host will give me back control or at least make it act in my best interest and let me get up.”  

“Eldritch-“

“Alexis, fucking shoot me,” he hissed through the suit.

“Nick, I-”

I reached down and fished out the staff, extending and jabbing it forward with as much force as I could muster.  While the suit revolted instinctually and grabbed my weapon, half a second later there was a strange calming of the individual tendrils.   

And then they all faded into a fine powder as my friend reappeared, battered and bruised in his birthday suit.  “Thanks.”

I helped him to his feet and we hurried inside the slum, finding the hologram orb that Dragoon had left for him.  

He was audibly relieved to not be walking around completely naked anymore.  

Up a flight of stairs and we slithered back into the apartment we had commandeered for the time being and all collapsed.  

“Vermin were waiting for us to do this, bring Shockwave out,” Dragoon hissed as she ripped off chunks of armor that were still trying to shift plates back into place.  “We just did their fucking dirty work!”

“At least he isn’t too tired from beating the piss out of me,” Nick muttered as his illusion fell, revealing him now clad in sweats and a t-shirt.  His face was mottled bruised as if he’d been in a nasty fist fight; it was probably safe to assume the rest of him wasn’t looking so hot either.

I tried to smile even though my face hurt still from Ironclad slapping me, “At least we managed to get away.”

Alexis frowned as she slipped out of her kev-silk bodysuit; even under that she had a few bruises already formed.  One on her ribs was especially bad. The fact she wasn’t more damage after going ten rounds with Ironclad and Collision was a testament to Armorsmith’s work with her extra layer of protection.  “I don’t know that we’re out of the woods yet. I know you saw Rat look at us, I saw it too. If there’s one thing that Vermin do well, it’s chase.”

“But he’s busy with Imperium,” Nick said, “We’re small potatoes compared to them.”

“Vermin are obsessed with their head count,” our captain pointed out. “We’re beat to shit, and we were enough to bring Shockwave out to play; we’re an easy target worth picking up.”  She sighed, “And of course, we don’t know how many members of Vermin are here…or what we’re up against.”

“And some of them might be out of costume,” I mentioned.  “I saw Rig before he set off the first round of explosions.  He was letting his lack of disguise hide his intentions; he just looked like a spectator who wanted to get dangerously close to the fight.  While not usual, it isn’t the craziest thing. He probably slipped around the whole time setting up his charges and no one paid him any mind.”

“We couldn’t spare the attention and Imperium simply didn’t care,” Nick sighed, “I should have noticed.”

“You were constantly fighting two on one,” I laughed, “This isn’t on you.”

An awkward pause came over the room as we all tried to collect ourselves.  Today had started pretty well, and it would have been just fine if Shockwave hadn’t showed up.  But, we hadn’t been prepared for extra interference; Alexis bit the inside of her cheek as she looked us over, “This is on me for not thinking about Vermin.  We saw them the night of the dog fight and I should have been more mindful. Now we just have to hope that Imperium can handle themselves and that Shockwave stays alive; if he dies I don’t want to imagine how much damage the power vacuum he’d leave behind might cause.”  She let out a tired sigh, “For now though, the best thing we can do at this point is get the hell out of here.”

“Well, we can’t have that.”  

All of us stiffened as a ghoulish figure opened the door to our little hideout.

He was malformed in a way that nature didn’t normally manufacture.  While there weren’t any properties to him that made him seem necessarily inhuman, like Rat possessed, he was disturbingly asymmetrical.  Half his jaw hung open with a massive tongue hanging out, one of his elbows bent the wrong direction, and his legs were weirdly oversaturated with muscle where the rest of his pale body seemed awkwardly anemic.  

“What the-“

“Eldritch, grow!” Alexis snapped, “Now!”

“I can’t!”

“Parasite, get rid of him!”

Grabbing my staff, I was alarmed at the aberrations speed as he bounded across the room and drove a foot into my hip.  Tossed off balance, I managed to find my footing quickly but my weapon was tossed out of my hand. Growling, I threw a quick strike to his face, but the freak just bent backwards as if he didn’t have a spine.

Except, you could hear bone crack and snap as he made the jarring movement.  

His foot shot back up into my torso and knocked me against the wall; I was still slow and my body had endured so much abuse that the pain made my eyes swim.  

Who the hell was this guy?

Alexis was out of her armor and I couldn’t ask her to help with her power supply broken; while I would have loved Nick’s help, without mass to grow, he wasn’t going to be of any assistance.  

I willed my passenger into my arms and slammed both hands under his ankle, hoping to lift his leg and knock him over; his hip opted to dislocate his hip and he wrenched his leg straight vertical while his torso now touched the ground, adding extra balance.  

And then he brought his heel straight down.

Muscle memory had me dodge to the side and it was a good thing since the malformation kicked hard enough to shatter the floorboards.  His head, still on the floor, turned to me with a sickening crack of his neck breaking… again. “Imperium really did a number on you, Parasite,” he cackled, “I thought you’d be a challenge!”  

I was going to reply, but a pneumatic hiss heralded a bullet entering his chest.  As his head turned, Alexis fired another eight rounds into his torso without blinking.  She held her gantlet with a grim determination, one of the panels torn free so she was able to quickly realign her power supply.    

The thing howled and twitched on the floor, curling into itself like an insect in its death throes.

And then it turned completely grey, like it was decomposing at an incredible speed.  All of us gagged as a putrid smell filled the apartment; the body had started liquefying and slowly seeped towards the break in the floor.  

“Who the-“

“Miss me?” the same voice asked as another figure filled the doorway.  

It was clearly the same base person, but he was twisted a different way this time.  One leg was longer than the other, both arms long enough they dragged on the floor, and hair down past his waist but thinned out.  

As he stepped forward and I braced myself, it stopped moving.  A confused grunt escaped the freak as a red stain trickled down its chest; a pair of claws had literally torn straight through the creature’s ribs.  

It looked down, just as surprised as we were.  

It tried to turn and something resembling a werewolf leapt onto the twisted form and bit out the neck in a swift motion.  It toppled without another sound and went through the same convulsions that the other twisted figure had endured.

Alexis trained her glove on the new figure in our midst.  He was maybe 6’ tall but layered in muscle with a coat of thick brown fur over the top.  Massive claws would likely limit the use of his hands for anything other than killing, and his blood-stained snout revealed twin rows of sharp canines.  

“Who the fuck are you?” our captain asked.  

In a blur, he seemed to distort and quickly shrink back to a regular looking guy clad in shorts and a plain white t-shirt with a mop of black hair and deep green eyes.  “I’m a friend.”

“And why should we trust you,” Alexis prodded, unconvinced.  

Hands still raised, the shapeshifter slowly knelt down in clear surrender, “Listen, Dragoon, I know this is abrupt, it’s sudden, but please let me help you.”

“Why are you here,” she demanded.  

“And how do you know who we are?” Nick inquired.  

“You’re fighting Imperium,” he said with a chuckle, “It is hard to not know who the Rogue Sentries are.”

“Why are you here,” our captain asked again, agitated.  “Tell me why I shouldn’t put one in your head. We don’t know if you’re Vermin and just fucking with us.  They are a bunch of freaks who love playing mind games.”

He nodded, “My name is Ted, or Mutant if you want the Reckoner title.  I’m here because Vermin killed my friends,” he divulged. “They were my team…. and Vermin fucking cut them down like they didn’t matter.  Everyone but me,” he managed to croak.

I could hear the audible snag in his voice; his grief was either real or he was a phenomenal actor.

“That still doesn’t answer my question.”  

Mutant’s dark expression lightened and he let out a laugh, “I’m here because I can’t do it alone.  I’m here,” he looked up and met Alexis’ challenging glare, “Because I need a new team.”

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