Clemency stared down his opponent, refusing to flinch or show any kind of weakness. “If you’re willing to let us go, we can avoid this.”
Zellig laughed, “I am Trillodan and you talk to me about preventing the bloodshed? I was made to be a war machine; why would I deny myself?”
“Look at me,” Zellig invited, “Do I look like a normal soldier to you?”
Clemency shook his head, “I suppose not. Still, this isn’t a fight you can win. As strong as you are, you’re fighting me in a city that is on fire and suffering upheaval.” To add emphasis, the chain of energy stretched out and coiled on the ground at his feet like some kind of snake. “If you fight me, I will cut you down.”
The Trillodan commander leaned forward, glaring, challenging Clemency. “Tell me this, Clemency, do you have what it takes to ‘cut me down’? I know how much energy you expended earlier fighting Eldritch. Are you sure you have enough left in the tank to come out on top? They didn’t,” he said with a gesture to Shock, Awe, and Goliath respectively.
I slowly got to my feet and took a few steps away from Clemency, not wanting to be anywhere near this conflict. It was going to happen eventually and I was a seventeen year old without even clothing to shield myself from the astonishing levels of power both of them wielded.
Despite his incredible gift, Clemency wasn’t known for being overly aggressive. He was a defender, a protector, someone who chose to be reactionary as opposed to instigate a fight. Even though tonight he was at his most powerful, you could tell he was still trying to seek out a more peaceful resolution, even with this violent monstrosity.
“Stay back,” Clemency warned as Zellig took a challenging step forward.
“Or you’ll do what? Be specific,” he taunted with a grin.
The man clad in cobalt didn’t answer, waiting to see what the commander would do. I kept edging away, knowing that inevitably one would make the first move and it would be one hell of a fight. Clemency was a Projector, and the strongest alive except for Titan. Some might argue Shockwave would be more powerful, but with how much emotional charge there was in Ciel, Clemency would be at his peak. However, Zellig had proved he was designed to withstand harm, to win out in a war of attrition. Beyond that, he was clever, well-trained, and alarming fast for someone his size. Any hesitation would be punished and any slip up could prove fatal from my would-be savior.
Zellig was first to move, lunging forward and quickly rolling to avoid the chain lashing out; Clemency strengthened the glow on his right hand and a wall of purple fields formed around Zellig, immediately stopping his progress.
“Hard-light constructs,” the Trillodan said with a grin, “Now isn’t that something.” He slammed a fist forward and shattered the field that faded to nothingness. As it shattered, more sprung into existence and boxed in Zellig, collapsing in on him and limiting his movement.
“I told you,” Clemency said as he slowly twisted his hand, lifting the light prison he had bound Zellig inside of, “that you wouldn’t win this.” Swiping his hand to the right, the hard light prison and its occupant flew into a mound of rubble. As the Trillodan crashed, Clemency whipped around his left hand, throwing the chain forward, finding nothing to snare as Zellig leapt away.
Before he could land, Clemency constructed a hard-light wall and pulled it forward, shoving Zellig back into the terror chain that wrapped around his torso.
The Trillodan growled and seized the chain, trying to yank Clemency forward; Clemency lashed his arm and the chain echoed his motion, slamming Zellig against the ground hard enough to crack the pavement. Flicking his limb up at an angle, Clemency tossed his opponent into the side of a building that caved against his weight. Dragging his arm back, the Projector smashed Zellig back into the street, making this look like a decidedly one-sided fight.
As he crashed against the pavement, Zellig slapped his hand against the side of his armor; the metallic vest seemed to part for a split second and scales of metal ran smoothly over his hand, almost flowing as it constructed a familiar looking glove.
“Clemency, look out!” I shouted as Zellig raised his hand and flexed his fingertips; the kinetic energy was stopped by a hard light barrier being hastily erected, but it had cost Clemency the hold he had over the Trillodan juggernaut.
Zellig shouted something in an alien tongue and the surviving soldier scurried back towards the prisoner transport. As Clemency tried to look past him, Zellig raised his hand again and fired another few kinetic blasts, refusing to be ignored. Despite being whipped around the place, the commander wasn’t any slower, charging forward at an absurd pace.
Clemency tried to create the hard-light barriers to imprison Zellig, but this time he had an easy answer. The purple walls of light shattered and the commander didn’t even break stride, shifting himself to avoid a purple spear that came hurtling forward. Another kinetic blast came, this one forcing Clemency to actually use his power of desperation defensively and conjure a barrier; the continued charge from Zellig prompted him to soar into the air, ensuring that he wasn’t within reach.
The Trillodan leapt onto one of the mounds of rubble and pivoted, again emitting that whirring sound before launching himself directly at Clemency with a velocity that rivaled a speeding car.
Instead of trying to avoid him, Clemency clenched his right hand and several sheets of hard-light shoved Zellig back down to the ground with a profound slam. Clemency lashed the chain down, being repelled by a particularly well placed blast from the glove as Zellig leapt away, back towards the prisoner transport and where the last Trillodan soldier had vanished to.
The soldier clambered from the wreckage with a massive black block in hand; he set it on the ground and gave it a herculean shove towards his commander. Clemency tried to make a construct to sweep the box aside, not wanting to find out what it was, but Zellig predicted his action and fired another blast of energy to shatter the manifestation of Clemency’s desperation gift.
As Zellig touched the box, the sides popped open, as if a lock had been released; from the now open container, he procured a massive gun that was glowing orange. It had two distinct barrels stacked on one another: the top looked like a dense cylinder of steel that filed down to a point while the bottom seemed more like it had been made with the idea of firing grenades. Both barrels were fused to a glowing chamber where you would have expected a firing pin to be. All in all, the thing was nearly the length of my arm, and almost as wide as my torso.
It was so large and unwieldy that it was almost surely custom made for Zellig alone.
As the chain came lashing down again, the Trillodan commander seized the massive cannon and rolled away, throwing himself back as Clemency swung the chain again, not giving him a moment to aim with that colossal firearm. The third time, Zellig feinted, buying him a split second before Clemency could redirect the tether; he heaved up the immense cannon and the larger barrel screamed as a massive globe of orange liquid fired.
The Projector hastily made a wall of hard light barriers in front of the projectile; the second it touched one, it exploded violently, blasting apart the projections and spewing globs of what looked like molten metal all over.
Clemency was thrown backwards from the explosion, unable to immediately correct his flight as Zellig raised the cannon and launched another sphere of superheated material. He did his best to insulate himself against the blast wave, but Clemency was knocked away again, tossed through a window of a nearby high rise.
Zellig smirked, proud of himself and flicked his wrist, getting the glowing compartment to turn over and change color. It had been a fiery orange before and now was a lethal and intense crimson. Raising the cannon, the narrow barrel let out a laser that he dragged along the base of the building; it carved through everything in its path and the building groaned as its stability was immediately compromised.
A blast from the golden glove was the last straw and the building began collapsing.
“And out we come,” Zellig replied, flick back to the ‘grenade’ launcher and firing a globe of material at the closest corner. He couldn’t see his target, but as if he knew the future, Clemency darted out, hastily escaping the collapsing structure.
Even though he managed to contain the globe of material in a hard-light box, it didn’t stop chunks of molten material from blasting forth. Clemency was tossed backwards and a globule of superheated liquid found his thigh, burning a hole straight through his armor. As he screamed in pain, Zellig raised the glove and fired a localized kinetic blast, keeping the Projector on defenseive. Unable to focus to raise a barrier in time, Clemency let himself fall to avoid the kinetic blast. Right before he touched down, Clemency hovered to avoid breaking his legs on touch down.
The Trillodan commander swapped the mode of his cannon and fired a laser at Clemency, knowing full well he couldn’t fly fast enough to avoid that. The Projector grit his teeth and created a blinding cone of purple hard-light; it split the laser and one of the defracted beams started boring through the mound of debris that I was just a few meters from. With a determined cry, Clemency drove his cone forward like some kind of drill.
As fast as the projection went, Zellig was quicker to get out of the way, immediately raising the cannon and letting fly another globe of molten material. Clemency flew as quick as he could to the side, enduring another sliver of orange material impacting his armor and burning a hole through it. Setting his jaw, Clemency shoved his right hand, driving a myriad of walls forward, driving Zellig back, even as he dug his feet into the pavement, gouging a trail as his talons carved through the concrete.
As I watched Clemency’s right arm light up, I knew he was stressing himself too hard to push back the Trillodan commander. I wasn’t even sure if he knew he was starting to Overexpose himself. As the Projector continued to drive the hard-light constructs forward, Zellig’s body literally started to glow at several junctures as that whirring sound screamed from his body, like a winch being stressed.
And then the purple wall driving Zellig back faded out of existence in a blink.
Even with all his uncanny ability to control his movements, Zellig had been exerting so much effort forward that he was thrown off balance for a split second and lurched forward, swinging the massive cannon forward as he tried to catch himself.
The chain from Clemency’s left hand swung down, not aimed for Zellig, but for the powerful Trillodan weapon. His chain lashed against the side, cutting a gash in the metal along the side of the chamber that was brimming with energy. Zellig’s face betrayed some alarm as he went to throw the cannon away as orange electricity arced around the outside of the weapon.
It smacked against a new wall of purple light; Clemency twisted his right hand and the hard-light construct expanded, turning into a cube with one side cut out. The energy seeking to escape took the path of least resistance, right into Zellig.
The Trillodan commander was launched into one of the mounds of debris faster than my eye could properly follow, the force of the blast pushing him easily half a meter deep into a mound of brick. Clemency, still wasn’t done. A flick of his arm sent the chain after Zellig, and a yank pulled the grey-skinned monster back out with the chain around his ankle. While Shock seemed to able to inflict a little damage, none of it was lasting; the blast from the destabilized weapon had ripped chunks of muscle and skin out of the Trillodan, ripping apart much of his armor. Fist sized chunks were torn free of his abdomen and larger muscle groups, much of the skin on his cheeks were gone and revealed the silver bones beneath, and his entire front was charred black.
In a decisive motion, Clemency swung and dragged Zelling into the corner of cement pillar, hitting square on his spine. The massive humanoid bent in half, his whole body ragdolling after the sickening crunch that heralded his spine snapping; it was the last sound before a strange calm fell over the little arena.
Touching back down, Clemency gasped for air, leaning against the side of a discarded truck to support himself. He looked over at me, his breathing haggard, doing his best to give me a smile. “Help me with-”
Another sickening snap shattered the stillness as Zellig’s spine corrected itself and he sat upright, raising the glove; Clemency’s body bent the truck’s door as a kinetic blast slammed him against it. My jaw dropped as Zellig stumbled up to his feet, groaning and resetting a number of bones that were out of place.
While the burns weren’t fading this time, the only thing that seemed to slow him down was Zellig’s left leg dragging. Even with chunks of his body missing, Zellig wasn’t bleeding, at all.
“What… what are you?” I whispered as he dragged himself towards Clemency, his quarry in his eyes.
“I am the best we have to offer,” he said, glancing to me smiling and showing off his metallic jaw. “And I’m a monster you’ll never be rid of,” he added in English before turning his attention to the still form of Clemency.
Stop standing there. There are dead bodies nearby and he’s wounded and doesn’t have his gun! Fight!
I turned to move and I saw Zellig’s attention snap to me, “Don’t do what you’re thinking of doing. I warned you, I will use your carcass to study if I can’t take you alive.”
We will not be lab rats for this asshole.
I agreed with the voice and started running anyways, regretting my choice as I saw Zellig raise his hand. There was no trace of emotion on his face either; earlier he’d seemed to be enjoying himself, but now Zellig was all business. He was a professional, and I was an obstacle who needed to be removed.
And right before the glove fired, the output tinted purple.
Zellig roared as it exploded, ripping away most of his hand with it. Clemency’s chain shot forward and snagged Zellig’s intact arm; the Projector rose and yanked, but he wasn’t expecting the Trillodan to fight back.
That mechanical whirring filled the air and Zellig sneered as Clemency’s arm began to shake, the signs of fatigue clear as day. While Clemency had so much more offensive power, Zellig had managed to weather the storm; if the Projector was out of ways to dish punishment out, the fight was over and Zellig wouldn’t need both his arms to seal the deal.
And from the bloodthirsty smile that crept up the Trillodan’s face, he knew it too.
But then his head snapped to the side, as if he’d heard something, right before a bolt of electricity hit Zellig square in the chest, throwing his balance off. It gave Clemency enough of a window to pivot and drag, launching the massive mound of muscle towards the skyline, crashing into a building halfway down the block.
“I don’t think that’s going to quite do him in,” Shock muttered as he staggered forward; Awe walked alongside, helping support his sibling.
I ran forward and caught Clemency as he threatened to fall over, blood starting to seep through his side and thigh. “How are you-”
“Armorsmith reinforced my stuff before I left,” he panted as he patted the cobalt colored plate, several of them cracked, “Without it, I think I’d be dead.”
Awe helped Goliath and his brother back around the corner as I helped Clemency shamble into the little alley that Relay had marked as one of his stations. Right before we asked for him to send us home, I was sure I saw a massive grey figure walk back out into the road, arms raised in challenge.
I’d half expected Relay to take us to another mansion, but now we were teleported to a place in the middle of nowhere that looked more like a quarry than a buildiste, and there was no trace of the city being anywhere nearby. Of course Titan would hide a build site way outside of Ciel; the wilds of Tso’got were teeming with horrific and alien creatures. No one would come out here looking for anything but most Adapted weren’t concerned about a passing Neklim or Eliphex.
A little bit away, there was a gargantuan pit that was bustling with activity as dozens of copies of the same person kept running back and forth with squares of metal, tools, or messages for someone else. Multi-task, the tomboy that Titan had recruited to his cause was a Peculiar capable of replicating herself up to 50 times per day, but all the duplicates could receive a single task. Though right now, I could easily see fifty of her and I was willing to bet there were more. Titan must have given her some of that stimulant that Chemtrail designed as a power booster.
As I looked down into the massive pit, I saw what Titan had kept her working on for so long.
The ship was immense and structured like an old Nighthawk stealth plane that used to be on Earth. It was easily seventy meters from wingtip to wingtip, probably 15 meters across, and easily 10 meters tall. At the center was what seemed to be an observation deck with a huge glass panel dead center and the wings were tipped at the front with tons of storage space behind the hard edge that ballooned out.
While I wasn’t too familiar with him, I knew Repository was able to mass produce unrefined materials, thinking them into existence in mass quantities. Not a great trick for a fight, but he’d enabled Titan to hide such a massive undertaking and remove the threat of there ever being a paper trail. With Repository providing materials and Multitask as a one-woman work squad, he’d been able to essentially have a full workforce building a vessel for his place for…likely years given the size of this thing.
“Holy shit,” I muttered.
“Maybe you should gawk after you get some pants on,” Clemency muttered.
As we got closer to one of the tent clusters, a few Adapted pushed around us, taking Clemency off my shoulders, and someone directed me to a tent as the Surface Dwellers were steered away to their members.
Inside the tent was a group of four very familiar people: Menagerie, Lightshow, Mutant, and Parasite. While three were asleep, my best friend was still awake, still wearing his suit despite the holes burnt through it. As I walked in, he stood up and took two steps towards me…and then promptly slapped me.
I wasn’t sure if he bothered using any of the power that his passenger could lend him or if he knocked me to the floor with his own strength alone.
“What the fuck is a matter with you?” he hissed, not wanting to wake anyone else. “You said you were going to come back here! You said you were going to be okay! Next thing I hear is Collector and Pyre shouting about some big Trillodan bastard and how a bunch of people are in danger, my friend included. You shouldn’t have even been there!”
I raised a hand in defense as he threatened to slap me again, “I know, you’re right. But, can you finish ripping me a new one after you hand me some pants? I’m fucking freezing.”
Parasite grumbled but tossed me a duffel bag. “It’ll be big on you, but it’s Geyser’s stuff.”
“Why am I-” I stopped talking as it abruptly made sense why Menagerie had sent some of her creations out with Shock and Awe to help rescue people. She didn’t care about helping Goliath rescue Pyre, she’d sent her creatures for another reason entirely. “They took him.”
He nodded, “She’s burned most of a notebook helping back up rescue groups. She finally crashed an hour ago.”
He shook his head, “Titan has her hopped up on that drug, and for her it’s like extra strength Adderall. She doesn’t talk much, just keeps building drones and is passing it over to Toolkit to perfect. She’s helped make like sixteen drones that are helping to weld together the rest of the ship. Even if you tried to talk to her, she wouldn’t really be aware of the conversation.”
We’d both seen her when she flicked her power on and started to build and even without any kind of chemical stimulant she was tough to reach. I couldn’t imagine how out of it Alexis was as she was working herself to death in the throes of a drug fueled haze. “Titan is making sure she’s fed and hydrated and stuff, right?”
“Fortunately the man does genuinely seem to care about keeping all of us intact,” Murphy replied, still cold.
There was an awkward silence that fell between us as my best friend continued to glare at me, infuriated for what I did. “Listen, Murphy-”
“Don’t. Don’t try to justify ditching me.”
“You don’t understand, Murphy,” I insisted.
I saw the passenger under his skin bulk up one arm, as if he was thinking about hitting me hard enough to knock my teeth out . “No, you don’t understand. We finally got my best friend back, we got him out of that horrifying suit, that fucked up situation, and then he doesn’t get to the Relay station. He abandons me.”
“Don’t lie to me. You weren’t planning on coming here, were you? You weren’t going to come with us. Fuck, you weren’t even going to say goodbye, were you?”
My silence was damning.
“So you were going to ditch us? You were going to fucking abandon me?” A tear started to roll down his cheek as he let out a nervous laugh. “My best friend, my teammate, was going to ditch me, just like fucking everyone else in my life. Were you gonna go shoot up with my parents too?”
His words felt like a kick in the gut. “Murphy, listen, please.”
“I’d love to hear your fucking explanation for this,” he snarled.
I didn’t want everyone knowing, but I knew that Murphy of all people would be able to keep a secret for me, “When I grew, when I was overwhelmed, it was like my Adaptation reached into my head and took a sample of my brain. It…it talks to me now. It has wants, demands, and it is dying to get loose again.”
For a second, Murphy was almost on the verge of laughing at such an absurd answer; when my face didn’t waver, he sobered up immediately. “You’re serious.”
I nodded. “It doesn’t like being a spectator in my head. It wants control, it wants to be able to express itself and move around.”
“But-but you came here naked. You turned it back on.”
“Holy shit, if it’s fucking…talking, why the hell would you let it loose?”
“We both agreed that being a lab rat wasn’t in our best interest,” I said plaintively.
My friend ran his hands through his hair, “Holy shit. But wait,” he muttered, “Shock and Awe were out to save you, along with Goliath. Why did you need to use your power? What was so fucking horrifying that Clemency had to show up?”
As quickly as I could, I let him know about Zellig and what had happened to me; about how Zellig found me in the bar trying to hide, how he’d kept us docile and moved us as bait, I told him about the beating that Zellig could bring, and then about how he’d almost gotten the better of Clemency despite being blown up and having his spine snapped.
When I was done, he didn’t look angry anymore, just worried. “Well, you’re here now. And, Nick,” he said quietly, “Don’t run away from us again. Isolating yourself, that’s how people break. I don’t want to see you snap and turn into Psycho or one of his cronies.”
“Yeah. You’re right.” He was right: I’d only endured a Snatcher lab for a little while and the isolation was crippling. I thought I was doing everyone a favor but God only knew what the hell I would be like if I Altered like Psycho or Bargain.
“I’m always right,” he replied, the hint of a grin at the corner of his mouth. “Now, come on, get some sleep. It’s like five in the morning. I think Titan is hoping to leave in about six hours or so, but it might be sooner if things go sideways.”
I obliged, laying down on one of the spare cots, the weight of the night hitting me like a ton of bricks. It’d only been about twelve hours since Feast Day had started, since I’d consumed my parents for material, since I’d lost control and made enough spectacle for draw the Trillodan to us.
But dealing with that all would wait until I could get a little sleep.
As soon as I closed my eyes, the world immediately faded away.
It only felt like a few seconds before I was quickly roused by a pair of rough hands shaking me. Mutant stood over me, a panicked expression on his face. “Get up, we need to go!”
There was only one reason he’d be waking me up like this.
Adrenaline hit me like a train as I threw myself up, grabbing the duffel bag that Murphy had given me last night as we slipped out of the tent. Outside, it was dawn, and the breaking light was enough to see a trio of massive ships descending from the sky.
The Trillodan had found us.
Adapted were all surging forward, moving as quick as they could for the ship, all of us fighting to get up the ramp and get onboard, none of us actually considering how the hell we were going to fly away from the Trillodan that were bearing down on us. Even if we could get this massive thing off the ground, it isn’t like we’d be instantly at light speed.
Zellig’s ideal was likely echoed by his underling; if they couldn’t keep us grounded, we were going to get shot out of the sky.
Once people were getting onboard, people flooded towards the observation deck, all of us looking up as our impending doom slowly dropped down on us, circling like vultures. As we watched, smaller transports separated from the massive Trillodan ships.
They weren’t going to risk sending a main ship closer, likely because of Titan; they wanted us alive to study, but they weren’t about to throw away hundreds of Trillodan lives because one man could turn the whole ship to slag with a snap of his fingers. I was aware of people shifting out of the way as the man himself passed through the crowd with an unfamiliar red headed woman in tow. He was still clad in black and wearing an expression that was strangely calm despite the most powerful race bearing down on us en masse and the panic of the crowd around him.
“Titan,” Multitask shouted, coming in behind him, “I’m telling you, this thing might be able to survive space, be we haven’t had time to slim it down enough that we can reliably get it off the ground. And, and this thing is probably gonna fucking come apart if we run it at the fucking atmosphere! I’m telling you, we aren’t ready for this.”
She raised a hand, agitated, “You’re going to get everyone killed or captured by pretending it’s okay. So just-” Multitask stopped arguing when he turned and stared her down, his red eyes piercing through her.
Titan took a deep breath, “Command, I need you! Forest, buy us time!”
At the corner of the room, the girl clad in white grinned; outside, roots erupted from the ground, ensnaring some of the ships that were getting close to us, and ‘devouring’ some of the foot soldiers who had been unlucky enough to set foot near our build site.
I’d been told that I’d only managed to kill about 20% of Forest despite all the time she tried to stop me earlier. Seeing what I assumed to be all of her in one place was both amazing and horrifying. The whole ground around the ship was reduced to a canyon, almost a living moat of vines and gnarled growths that were flailing around like an octopus’ tentacles, seeking out something to grab onto. Spires of twisted wood sprang up, towering over the ship, easily reaching up fifty meters to dissuade the Trillodan from coming closer. While they started using laser cutters-much like the one Zellig had-to hack away at her form, there seemed to be no end to how much material she could procure.
I turned back to Titan as he started talking to the redhead who was wearing a plain white shirt and jeans. “Can you do it?”
“Of course I can,” she replied, “but it’ll take…a lot.”
“As we are now, eleven.”
Titan grit his teeth, “Command,” he said to the Cognate, “hold on tight.”
The blonde Adapted stepped forward and laid a hand on the girl, his eyes turning completely black before he nodded to the leader of our cause.
“Do it,” Titan insisted to the mysterious red-head.
The whole room had been teeming with nervous whispers, people muttering and murmuring, scared and rightfully so; everyone stopped talking and turned as we all felt the same surge of power through the air. I can only assume this was what it felt like to step into a thundercloud, but we could all tell it was coming from this one girl.
I was close enough to get a good look at her as her veins lit up bright blue, and her eyes changed. They were like a reflection of the night sky, dotted with stars and swaths of emptiness between. She raised a hand towards the heavens and started sighing, almost remorseful. “If only you all could see what I see.”
The world around us started to shake, and my gaze fell to Command. The Cognate was shaking violently, as if he was trying to lift a weight that was far too heavy for him.
And then we weren’t on Tso’got anymore.
Where there had been the rising sun on Tso’got through the immense pane of glass before, now there was just the void of space with stars littering the backdrop of never-ending darkness. There was no more Trillodan blockade, no more alien tyrants coming down from the sky to apprehend us, no more Zari chasing us, nothing familiar left anywhere.
In a blink, whoever this girl was, she had moved the entire ship God only knew how far from Tso’got.
Who the fuck was she?
As her eyes returned to a normal color of brown, Command collapsed behind her, comatose and shivering. He was an Adapted who helped control mental impulse and thought; what the hell had gone on with her that he’d Overexposed himself trying to control a single person? Why had he even need to control her in the first place?
“Titan,” Shockwave demanded as he stepped to the front of the throng, “Who the fuck is she?” he demanded, asking the question everyone had on their mind.
He put a hand under hers as she started to waver and the electricity faded from the air. “Everyone, this, is Infinite. The most powerful person in the universe.”