Run you idiot.
I knew that the voice in my head was right, that I should turn and run as fast as possible away, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that. Zellig even had the audacity to tell me the exact mechanism the cuffs used to induce this stupor and still I couldn’t break away.
All he had to do was nudge me forward and I felt obliged to comply.
He was quiet as he led me forward, back towards downtown, near a building I had entirely thrashed. There were plenty of Zari clustered around, watching a few Adapted being herded onto a ship that looked like a silver plated slug with a metal ramp leading into the foreboding transport. Dozens of the Ciel natives turned and whispered to themselves as Zellig moved me through the throng; I’m sure some wanted to throw a rock at me or try to pummel me, but the presence of the imposing Trillodan commander prompted everyone to stand down.
As I got closer to the barge, there was a hint of my body protesting going onboard. As if he noticed, a gentle nudge from the immense Trillodan behind me quelled any thought of rebellious behavior. Even if I had tried to run, Zellig had proved he could catch me again in an instant. There was no winning this for me.
Onboard, I was sat down on an uncomfortable metal bench and pushed back against the wall. As I put my back to the wall, a gel seeped out and hardened around me, locking me in place. Out of my peripheral vision, I spotted one figure who was actually familiar.
Pyre. The pyrokinetic woman who usually fought alongside Goliath. Until tonight, we were diametrically opposed, but now I just wished I could muster up the willpower to help her go free; I might deserve every horrifying test that the Trillodan would inflict on me, but she didn’t. To her side was a figure I knew tangentially as Collector. She was a Conjurer who pulled inorganic items from and could send items to her own pocket dimension, much like how my gift consumed flesh and stored it for later use. Collector was a dark skinned woman who looked like she had spent far more time at the gym than I did. Given how rough being an Adapted working for Imperium had to be, it made sense.
All I could make myself do was strain against the gel l that encased the majority of my torso. When it held, I quickly gave up. After all, there was no need for me to fight this; going against Zellig and the Trillodan was futile.
You will not let us die. We will not be lab rats again.
I didn’t answer aloud and instead assumed that my empty feeling would suffice as an answer.
Get free. Feed me. We can fight.
“No,” I muttered in reply to my Adaptations demands, “It’s over.”
Some machinery within the metal slug of a prisoner transport hummed to life and we lifted off the ground, coasting along, above the throng of Zari and away from the catastrophic wreckage I had inflicted.
In the hour that I’d been an unstoppable monster, my fight with Forest and search of food supply had claimed miles of cityscape. All I’d left behind was a wasteland, picked clean.
They are going to use us to make this happen again and again. Fight.
To humor my Adaptation, I tugged against the gel prison and was once again unsuccessful. Still, my shifting got the attention of several of the guards onboard, and Zellig himself. It seemed that he didn’t quite trust the complacency cuffs to keep us entirely pacified and would make sure that we were taken to our destination with no hiccups.
Even if we’d had access to our Adaptations, I didn’t like our odds fighting ten armed Trillodan and their monstrous commander. Their technology put them on an even playing field with us, and the way that the soldiers looked to Zellig made it clear that he was a cut above and not just because of rank.
So, instead of fighting such an unwinnable contest, I sat still.
For as technologically advanced as the Trillodan were, it was a little perplexing that they made a little barge that didn’t seem to go very quick. Through the windows, I could see buildings pass lazily by as we continued to glide forward, propelled by some feat of engineering that Alexis might be able to appreciate.
But…why? Why were we going so slow? Surely the Trillodan ship could go more than 40km/h.
Of course it can. We’re bait.
“You’re using us to draw others out,” I muttered aloud, my brain hazy as I tried to break through the fog. I should be outraged, furious, fearful, something. It was a strange feeling to know that I should be more emotionally reactive, but feel so very little besides a little dose of contentment.
The common Trillodan soldiers didn’t catch my comment, but Zellig smiled and revealed his twin rows of dangerous looking canines. He didn’t need to say anything to let me know that was exactly what he was doing.
And I could do nothing more than sit, limp.
The commander perked up and turned, shouting something to his fellow Trillodan in a language I couldn’t understand. Something was happening, and somehow he knew. He had mentioned hearing me when I was talking to myself behind the bar, even breathing. Zellig definitely had enhanced senses. Even if he didn’t, this was the Trillodan. They had technology that might as well have been magic.
The commander snapped right about the time a thunderous boom sounded; the ship lurched to the right as a hole was blasted through the hull and we plummeted down, crashing into the side of a large concrete structure. The transport skidded to a halt on the curb with a horrible metallic grinding setting my teeth on edge. While the other Trillodan soldiers were thrown around the inside of the ship, Zellig barely moved and stayed upright the whole time.
Whoever came for us, they had no idea what they were up against.
Again shouting in a foreign language, Zellig beckoned for his troops to follow as he shoved open a door and stormed out. I was facing the wrong way to watch, but the sounds of combat filled the air, and one sound in particular was distinct: the crackle of electricity. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it either; Pyre perked up in her restraints, knowing full well that sound was only generated by one Adapted on Tso’got.
Shock. And wherever he went, his sibling came with. Of course it would be them, they had a teammate to save.
A thud was heard against the hull of the ship and a moment later a familiar figure filled the open doorway. Clad in a blue tracksuit with a white bolt down the center and slim helmet, Awe filled the doorway and stepped in. He did have a new accessory, one that was oddly familiar to me in particular. Where he used to wear kevlar gloves, he now had on sophisticated metal gauntlets, ones that were already fixing cosmetic damage around the knuckles.
“Why do you have those gloves,” I demanded, calling his attention to me.
“Eldritch and Collector to boot. Looks like I scored the big one,” Awe said with a little laugh, “Come on, we got to go.” He glanced at me, “Your friend, Dragoon, she gave me a few tools to help out.”
Awe stepped forward, slamming his fist against the hardened gel around Pyre, his hand acting like a jackhammer as it slowly cracked through the substance, the gloves keeping him from shattering his fingers. It took him a little bit, but eventually he ripped Pyre free. Procuring a little drone from his pocket, it set to work cutting through the cuffs that kept the pyrokinetic complacent.
The second they fell off, her eyes widened and she seemed to snap out of a trance. “Oh, fuck,” she muttered and almost fell over, having to steady herself against a wall of the transport.
“We don’t have much time, we got to get them out and get the hell out of here.”
His teammate nodded, a bit shaky, but she used her gift to help weaken the gel so he could better hammer through and free the other two Adapted present. He gave me a wary look as the drone cut free my restraints.
I understood why both Pyre and Collector nearly fell over after being released from the complacency cuffs; it was like suddenly feeling every bit of stress and mental strain that you’d endured for the last hour in the blink of an eye.
“Eldritch, you going to try and eat everyone?” Awe asked as he kept a fist clenched, “Do we need to worry about you going off the reservation?”
I shook my head, “No mass to burn. I’m harmless.” I waved outside, “The big guy–the grey one–Awe, he’s way more dangerous than you think.”
The Enhancer exhaled and nodded, “Well let’s help out then.”
Awe led the way back out to a warzone. Four of the Trillodan soldiers had fallen, three of them clearly victim to Goliath, the monstrous brute that worked alongside Shock and Awe. The only thing that seemed out of place was the number of monstrous creatures, all seeming to be twisted animals or monsters laden with far too many spikes or teeth.
Another bit of handiwork I was very familiar with. Menagerie was lending aid to the Surface Dweller rescue group and had sent them with nearly a dozen pieces of her living artwork. Shock was hidden behind them all, threading bolts of electricity through and blasting back a number of the Trillodan soldiers; their power armor kept them well insulated from his assault though and but apprehension was keeping them behind cover. More concerning for me was Zellig. The mountain of grey muscle was leaping from animated one animated drawing to the next, dispatching it with a frightening efficiency.
Watching him for a second, it was clear the commander had a clear target in mind as he ripped his way across the field: he wanted to pick a fight with Goliath and get some kind of payback for the Enhancer literally flattening his troops. While the armor could withstand the electricity from Shock, it couldn’t withstand his super strength. The gloves the Trillodan soldiers had weren’t doing enough to push him away, and he was simply growing more muscle to heal over the holes punched in him by the laser pistols.
“Pyre, can you fight?” Awe asked.
She shook her head, “Not much fire stored.”
“Collector, get over to Shock. Eldritch, stick with them and eat something. I don’t think I want you growing, but we may need it,” he muttered as Zellig leapt forward and engaged with Goliath. Zellig was a bit shorter than Goliath, but the Trillodan commander didn’t seem concerned over a few inches of height disparity.
Goliath blocked the first strike and replied with a straight jab, but it was like Zellig could see everything a second before it happened. His easily moved his head to avoid it and stepped forward, striking forward into Goliath’s chest and pushing him back a step; before he could recover his balance, Zellig raised a leg and drove his heel into the Surface Dweller’s gut and launched him back into the middle of the road. As Goliath scrambled to his feet, the Trillodan commander didn’t relent, leaping forward and opening his hands.
The bit of illumination provided by the street lights showed the glint of metal claws that had sprung from his fingertips.
Around us, the standing Trillodan turned their weapons on us, but Collector worked to buy us safe passage, pulling various walls and piles of rubble to literally wall them out. From behind them, we heard the horrific screeches of Menagerie’s monsters helping force the Trillodan soldiers back.
At the end of our conjured alley, Shock came into view with his own white and blue suit, the inverse of his siblings. “You two,” he snapped at Collector and Pyre, “Get back to that alley there, it’s a Relay station. Go back and ask for backup. And you,” he said to me, “Eat something. Now.”
I followed his gaze and saw Goliath continuing to fight against Zellig, and it was going incredibly poorly. While Goliath was incredibly strong – and could likely do some serious damage to Zellig – he seemed to be moving in slow motion compared to Zellig. Nothing Goliath could do was able to land against his opponent; it dawned on me that it was like when I had tried fighting Murphy in the past. It wasn’t just that Zellig was faster than Goliath, he was simply better at this. The Surface Dweller strongman had never needed finesse since no one could stand in front of his overwhelming might.
Zellig wasn’t worried, letting his martial mastery negate Goliath’s inhuman might. He was even smiling while he continued dancing around, ripping out chunks of muscle from the Enhancer.
“Shock, your brother needs to help Goliath!” I shouted to the Projector beside me.
“I know!” he panted, “But we need you to suit up too. I’m still not nearly strong enough for this after what you did earlier.”
Use me. We need to fight.
“I…I can’t,” I said softly.
Shock didn’t hear me as he let loose another trio of bolts, driving back two of the remaining soldiers. His brother swept in, pummeling them before they could take aim at Shock. Even now, it still boggled my mind how well these two worked together.
“Awe! The big guy!” the Projector shouted to his sibling.
There was no hesitation from Awe as he sprinted over. Right before he made contact, Shock hit his brother with a bolt of electricity, fueling his absurd speed and strength.
Compared to the massive forms of Goliath and Zellig, Awe seemed tiny, but Zellig was smart enough to respect the new challenger. A metal gauntlet found the side of his arm and left an opening for Goliath to finally land a blow into the Trillodan’s midsection. Even so, it only drove him back a single step, even with all of Goliath’s strength.
Awe continued to burn through his charge, zipping behind Zellig; the commander spun around, the metal talons demanding that Awe take a step back. Still, it was two versus one, and Goliath was not going to be outdone by his newfound teammate. Goliath’s strike found its target and sent the Trillodan reeling; Awe followed up and stepped in, ducking under the claws and unleashing a quick flurry of blows on Zellig’s midsection. Awe was smart enough to back out and avoid being grabbed. Goliath knew he could take advantage of his opponent having his back turned to him.
A fist drove into Zellig’s side, but the Trillodan spun with a burst of speed Goliath wasn’t expecting. Claws flashed and Goliath staggered back, four gashes carved into his chest. This time it was Zellig to push the advantage, darting forward, jamming nearly his entire hand all the way into his opponent’s stomach. Goliath shook, but then let out a battle cry, swinging and driving the Trillodan back; Awe sprinted forward and slammed a fist forward into Zellig’s spine, managing to evoke a grunt from the behemoth.
But Goliath wasn’t able to follow up. He stumbled backwards, clutching his stomach in an attempt to staunch the blood flow. Zellig had nearly eviscerated him, hitting the actual man hidden under all the excess muscle.
Shock let out a bolt of electricity to charge his brother as Zellig turned his attention entirely to Awe now. While Awe was extremely quick, he was having trouble finding an opening without the assistance of Goliath.
“He needs you to he-” I was cut off as a searing pain tore through my side. On our flank, one of the Trillodan soldiers hadn’t stayed down after the assault from Menagerie’s monsters. Shock turned and endured a hole being bored through his shoulder before he could return fire and blast the Trillodan soldier hard enough to throw him off his feet and back into the prisoner transport.
The whole world seemed to go quiet as I put my hand to my side and looked at my palm, coated in blood. Slowly, I sank to my knees, queasy, starting to shake in disbelief. There was a hole in me, cutting straight through me just below my ribcage. The edges of my vision began to blur as I sank to all fours, trying to get myself to relax and breathe.
A rough pair of hands grabbed my shoulders and hauled me back up to my feet. Shock ripped his helmet off, revealing a pasty white young adult with short blonde hair and brown eyes. “Eldritch, listen to me,” he snapped, “Eat one of the Trillodan bastards, bulk up.” He glanced down at my side and shook his head, grimacing. “Your power, it heals you, right?”
I nodded, unable to speak.
“Then here’s what is going to happen. You’re going to eat, bulk up, and help kill this big bastard. If that thing takes my brother, if he gets taken to some alien lab somewhere, I won’t leave enough left of you for him to get samples. Understood?”
I nodded again, caught off guard by his desperation. Shock pointed me at a corpse that had fallen in the no-man’s land between Shock and the rest of the melee and he shoved me forward, stepping past me to use the walls and debris provided by Collector so he couldn’t get blindsided by another blast from a laser pistol.
As I lurched forward, I watched the duo square off against Zellig.
The first arc of electricity curved around the Trillodan commander and reinvigorated Awe as he rolled, narrowly avoiding a punch. With a new charge, Awe darted forward and drove a fist into the solar plexus of his opponent, making Zellig slide back on the asphalt. Shock charged his fingertips and let fly an orb of electrical energy that exploded next to the Trillodan and left scorch marks on his armor and across much of his grey flesh. His sibling took advantage of the temporary lapse in his focus and went low, slamming a fist into the side of Zellig’s knee, bending his leg entirely the wrong way and forcing him to kneel.
I got close enough to the first dead invader and removed his helmet, and placed my hand against his skin.
Seventy-seven kilograms of material to consume.
Shock drove another few bolts of lighting into the Trillodan hulk as Awe danced around him, delivering what blows he could land safely. Maybe I didn’t need to consume this mass and risk unleashing the monster I kept locked up inside of me.
Maybe these two could put him down.
As if he heard my suspicion, Zellig suddenly turned the tables. Awe dashed forward and targeted the Trillodan’s face while he was low enough to be vulnerable; in a snap, Zellig shot out an arm and seized Awe around the bicep, making sure to grab above the gauntlet so he couldn’t wriggle free. “Enough running for you,” he said with a laugh as he turned and pitched the Enhancer. Awe’s body went flying across the street, completely demolishing the side of a small car. He didn’t get back up.
“Alexei!” Shock screamed, hastily launching a bolt of electricity into his siblings body as if he could force him to heal. “Alexei, get the fuck up!”
Zellig stood back up, a twitch of his leg violently setting the knee back into proper place. He didn’t even test the reset limb, Zelling just started walking again like nothing had even happened. As he stepped into a more illuminated spot, I could see the burn marks fading, like a stain being washed off his skin. He sneered at Shock and spread his arms, welcoming the abuse. Shock scowled and accepted the challenge, firing a trio of blasts into his chest, but it barely made Zellig flinch. There was no real harm done, nothing that he wouldn’t heal through.
Consequences be damned, someone needed to make this bastard hurt.
I burned all the mass, making three tonnes of Neklim growth as fast as I physically could, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The instant my skin sprouted growths, Zellig turned to me, his smile fading. Shock noticed too, immediately raising his arm and pulling charge to his fingertips.
Zellig had been so sure about fighting everyone else, but he wasn’t entirely confident he could beat me.
The Trillodan’s initial move forward was halted by Shock releasing a renewed electrical salvo, keeping Zellig still for a moment. As I grew, there was a blur of blue and white as Awe rejoined the fight, glowing as he hastily burned through all the charge that his brother could give him. Zellig was forced to stall a moment as Awe sped around him, striking whatever he could get a shot at: knees, torso, and the spine. While one brother ran around him, the other was contributing all the electricity he could, wearing away at Zellig’s guard, ensuring he couldn’t retaliate and fight back.
At once, the Trillodan moved with blinding speed. A quick jab hit Awe hard enough in the head to crack his helmet and disrupt his balance. As he was rattled, Zellig pivoted and kicked him square in the torso, launching him into the debris that Collector had conjured. Shock roared in rage, releasing a massive blast of electricity, but the Trillodan brute dropped onto all fours and literally dug his claws into the street, holding him still while he endured the assault.
As soon as Shock had to stop and catch his breath, the mountain of grey muscle got back to his feet. The Projector tried to fire again, but Zellig reacted faster, grabbing a hunk of rock and launching it like it had been fired from a gun. Shock keeled over, holding his ribs and gasping for air as Zellig lumbered forward, his body already mending the burns inflicted.
But they had bought enough time for me to grow three tonnes of Neklim mass.
While I had been dwarfed earlier, now I towered over Zellig,
I felt the aggression from my Adaptation, rage from the Neklim and I let it burn as I lumbered forward, in harmony with the voice in my head.
Raising a massive arm, I swung down and hardened the edge, using it like a massive club; Zellig moved a foot out to widen his base and raised an arm, absorbing the blow without much trouble. I curled the limb around his arm and tried to dig in, rip the flesh away from his bones and consume it.
Except, I couldn’t. It was too durable, too tough for me to find any purchase and sink my teeth into.
The Trillodan commander smiled and lunged forward, driving a fist into my midsection. For a moment, there was dissonance between myself and the Neklim suit as I felt pain in my person, despite the wall of flesh between us. Pressing the attack, Zellig’s claws sprung out from his fingertips again and he slashed across my midsection before attacking the arm I was trying to hold onto him with.
He cut through me with alarming ease, ripping away a few dozen kilograms in an instant.
Reallocating muscle to maintain my grip on his arm, I turned and dragged him with; even though he dug his claws into the road, my sheer weight pulled him along for the ride. I let him go and he flew into the side of the prisoner transport, the dense metal folding around him. Even though he was large, he was much heavier than he looked, like the bastard was made of lead or something.
Zellig only stayed down for a second; as he got up, he convulsed and reoriented an arm that had broken when he crashed against the hull.
Beside me there was a thudding as Goliath lumbered closer. While he had finally overgrown the numerous gashes and pair of incredibly deep perforations that had been inflicted, Goliath was looking worse for wear. His breathing was labored, he was moving slow, and it almost looked like he couldn’t pick his arms up anymore. “I may not be much help, but if I can get a hold of this bastard for you, I’m pretty sure I can keep him still for a moment.”
“Okay,” I acknowledged.
Zellig looked at us and smiled before leaning down like a runner readying on the blocks. His running was similar to the way Goliath could move, with immense strides, an overwhelming amount of muscle and strength carrying you forward. Except, as Goliath charged to match him, Zellig pivoted and sidestepped. Claws slipped through his toes and he literally dug into the road to stop. Goliath couldn’t adjust as quickly and had to take an additional step forward, Zellig using the opportunity to swipe and come away with a literal handful of Goliaths side.
The Enhancer sank to his knees and a heavy blow to the jaw from the Trillodan made sure he wasn’t getting up any time soon.
I roared, enraged as I swung down and was met again with his ability to simply withstand my blows. As I grabbed one arm, he stepped towards me and kicked a leg out from under me. Even though my legs were dense, it folded and my balance went with. However, I dragged him with, refusing to let go. I wasn’t about to let him get free use of those claws he had hidden in his fingertips.
Leveraging my mass, I pulled his arms to stretch him out, to isolate his limbs and see if I could do any lasting damage. As I pulled his arms apart, Zellig yanked himself forward and drove a heel against my midsection, hitting about where my pelvis was underneath the suit. The moment of dissonance gave him a window to dig his foot in and push, ripping one hand free. Once one arm came free, he quickly shredded the mass holding the other.
Frustrated, I reached both arms forward and engulfed his torso, squeezing down, trying to crush his chest entirely; before I managed to grab hold, Zellig reached forward and pushed back against my massive arms. For a little bit, there was a stalemate as I struggled forward and he grunted, holding his ground. And then, there was a strange, electrical whirring that heralded him actually pushing me back. Zellig roared and shoved me backwards; before I could find my balance, he leapt forward, literally tackling me to the ground and reaching forward, ripping a patch of growth away.
My eyes opened as he exposed my actual face. Seeing everything from the Neklim input as well as my own was overwhelming and nearly made me scream. As growth tried to reallocate, to protect me beneath the mass, a massive hand came down and grabbed around my head.
“Dismiss the growths, or we see how well your Adaptation works without your head attached.” He bared his fangs in a sinister sneer, “I’d rather bring you back alive, but your carcass will still be a useful thing to study.”
I could feel the reluctance of my Adaptation, but I released the growths, letting them crumble to ash.
Zellig rose and once again loomed above me, looking over the battlefield. The Trillodan commander looked remorsefully at the scattered Trillodan corpses, his gaze lingering on the one whose flesh I had stripped away. Three of his men were gathering around him, survivors of the encounter with the Adapted.
“I wasn’t intending to lose those two,” Zellig said with a sigh, “But getting Shock and Awe, as well as Goliath, I must say that is decided-”
He stopped and threw himself to the side as a truck swung through, bound by a massive glowing chain like it was on the end of some kind of flail. The three Trillodan soldiers weren’t nearly so fast to avoid and two were swept aside as the chain disconnected and let the momentum of the truck carry them into a completely innocent building.
“Are you alright?” a gentle voice asked as a man in cobalt colored armor landed beside me.
There was no mistaking that getup, or the authority that Clemency wielded. His hands were both glowing, fueled by emotional charge in the air around us. One of his gloves had a white glowing chain wrapped around it and the other glowed a deep purple. The white chain was terror, and the purple was desperation, two of his most powerful weapons in his arsenal; thanks to the Trillodan’s arrival and my rampage earlier, there was no shortage of emotional charge around Ciel for him to utilize.
“I’m…I’m okay. He…he’s-”
Clemency looked at the carnage and seemed to understand how dire the situation was, and how dangerous the massive Trillodan in front of him was.
Zellig on the other hand, looked excited at the prospect of fighting one of the most powerful Adapted in existence. “Now, here’s a proper contender,” he laughed, clapping,“Come on then, Clemency, show me exactly what you Adapted are capable of!”