Illuminate: Nemesis

I’d been in the presence of monsters.  I’d come face to face with killers of all shapes and sizes before.

Back on Tso’got, we’d fought with some of the biggest names in the Adapted industry.  We’d fought against Beleth and his gang of fiends. I’d been integral in helping Psycho eliminate one of the most nefarious domestic terrorists, Rat.  I watched Eldritch lose control and consume entire chunks of Ciel during Feast Day. I’d encountered several of the Trillodan elite and been inches from death numerous times in the last day.  I had felt my heart stop and watched my friend work fiercely to keep me breathing. 

None of that compared to the terror I felt when I looked at Zellig.  

He wasn’t some aimless monster or some local criminal.  He wasn’t a blind follower to a cause or devotee.  

Zellig was the cause.  

He was where those Trillodan psychopaths drew their inspiration and it wasn’t hard to see why.  He was staring down a dozen Adapted and he knew what most of us were capable of. He wasn’t confident to the point of being foolish either; he’d gotten rid of Adamant right off the bat.  Zellig knew that if Adamant got to dictate terms, he was unbeatable; when denied that opportunity, Adamant was just a bag of bones like the rest of us.  

Zellig knew exactly how strong he was and exactly where his shortcomings were.  He had ripped Eldritch out of his Neklim suit, he’d beaten Goliath half to death, and Zellig had fought Clemency while at the pinnacle of his power.  Zellig had fought bigger threats than we had with us, and he’d triumphed. And now we were weakened, crippled, and fatigued thanks to the relentless pace of the day.  Without Distortion, we had no quick getaway plan; Zellig must have learned from the demolitionist about her ability to teleport swaths of area and multiple people around.  Without her, we were forced to stay nearby, forced to play whatever sick game he wanted.  

“Why didn’t he tranquilize all of us?” Menagerie asked, confused.  

“He wants us to fight, but not to kill ourselves,” Dragoon whispered, answering her question.  “If he knocks out half of us, the others Overexpose.” She glared back at the Trillodan commander who was waiting patiently, enjoying the calm before the impending storm, “He’s not making it unwinnable, but he’s making it close enough that we can gamble on it.”  

“He won’t pick a fight he can’t win,” Eldritch muttered, already beginning to manifest his Neklim suit.  “You know that Drag.”    

“We can’t run,” Dragoon replied, “And we don’t have a perfect champion in Adamant.”  Her gaze went to Parasite, “But, I think you might do.”

“Me?” Parasite said, mystified.  “Why me?” 

“Your gift is dependent on your own physical strength.  Zeal’s gift multiplies it. It’s a match made in heaven.  Besides,” Dragoon added, “You’ve trained hard enough that your ability to fight is muscle memory.  As crazy as Zeal makes you, you won’t get sloppy.”      

“Why is he waiting?” Zeal asked, looking past Dragoon. “Why isn’t he rushing us?” 

“Because he has backup,” Trample replied, pressing her hand to the ground, “Footsteps.  Marching. Soldiers,” she concluded. “He’s letting them get into position before he fights.”  

Dragoon turned to Interface, “You were never recorded, were you?  Back on Tso’got?”

Interface shook their head.  “No. Titan kept me under wraps.”  

“Then you’re our ace in the hole, because he doesn’t know what you do.”  Dragoon faced Zellig who was looking interested. He had heightened senses and could hear us, but nothing we had said alarmed him.  I could tell he was thrilled we had figured out his game, and the fact that Dragoon believed we were able to fight.  

“Tol and Salah didn’t do your intelligence justice, Alexis,” Zellig commended as he waited patiently, “You truly do have quite the mind for this.  And in someone so young, you would grow to be quite the pain if Titan had let you mature.” 

Dragoon stiffened, perturbed that Zellig knew who she was.  “Interface, get ready. Zeal, give power to Gnaw, Dancer, and a big dose to Parasite.  Small dose to Lightshow and Menagerie. Enough for them to use their Adaptations,” Dragoon instructed.  

I debated correcting her and reminding her that I was no longer technically an Adapted; I figured now wasn’t the best time.  Still, I had reservations. “Are you sure you want to give me a power that makes me crazy?” 

“We don’t have a choice,” she replied as Zeal pressed a hand against Parasite.  “For now, we have to use the tools given to us.” She gave a glance to Parasite, “You ready?”

The Enhancer turned to her, his signature grin turned into a manic smile that belonged on someone confined to an asylum.  Any trace of Parasite was washed away; Zeal’s power had entirely overwritten his personality. 

If she felt concern for her friend and his eroded sanity, Dragoon did a fantastic job hiding it.  “Parasite, kill Zellig.”  

The only thing that Parasite seemed to retain was his fierce determination to his captain and friend; as soon as she had uttered the command, he bolted towards Zellig like a rabid dog.  Despite how much power Zeal had lent him, his movements were still crisp, refined, composed even. The Trillodan commander wasn’t overwhelmed, but his attention was suddenly drawn away from the rest of us.  As inflappable as he was, Zellig was driven back a pace by Parasite’s ferocity.  

Parasite said he could throw four serious hits per second.  Thanks to Zeal, he was probably throwing six times that many, and each one was leaving a small dent in Zellig’s torso.  Even though everyone claimed that Zellig was built to win a war of attrition, I had to wonder how many blows from Parasite he could take before the Trillodan commander sustained serious injury.  

“Gnaw, Dancer,” Dragoon directed, pointing to the far corner of the schoolyard, “Deal with the infantry!  Exchange, help Parasite!” As fast as Gnaw and Dancer were with Zeal’s power, the small battalion of Trillodan regulars were here ahead of time and taking aim.  To our surprise, a massive wall of metal rapidly constructed itself between the incoming barrage of lasers and the two members of Serpentine. Behind us, Warden grunted with exertion and gave a weak smile.  

“Hard to project stuff outward.  Close by is where I’m best.” 

Dragoon nodded, “Good, stay by us then.  If things start getting hairy, you’re our first line of defense.  Eldritch, how long do you need?” 

“Another minute,” came the creepy hiss of a reply as layers of tendrils overlapped and expanded, already making him a foot taller. 

I had a moment of apprehension as Zeal pressed a hand against my arm, and then all reservations vanished.  All my inhibitions, all my worries faded; where there had been insecurity, there was frenetic energy and wild disdain.  My hate for the Trillodan had been magnified and care for my own person diminished. Violence suddenly became the answer to all of my problems, and there was no one more capable of bringing violence to the table better-  

“Lightshow,” Dragoon snapped, “Organelle.  We need her.” Even though no emotion shown due to her helmet, I knew she was scrutinizing me.  Dragoon wanted to make sure I wasn’t about to do anything brash.    

I was trying to push through a fog, having to force aside mental clutter to follow her instructions.  Zeal’s power, the maddening urge to fight and sate my bloodlust, was at war with my rational mind. I knew that I needed to listen to my captain, that I needed to heed her instruction but I wanted to lash out.  I wanted to repay them for taking off my arm. I wanted to make them regret making me Alter. I wanted to make them bleed for taking Mutant from me. I wanted to see the life drain from their eyes. I wanted to see that terror that I had witnessed in Kalr’s eyes when half her body was melted away.    

It took a moment, but my dedication to Dragoon won out and I began sifting through the memories I had of Organelle.  

“Interface,” Dragoon said, “Do it.”  

The Projector nodded, sitting down before their eyes rolled back.  

Across the yard, Zellig had found his rhythm and was countering nearly every single attack that Parasite could deliver, even with the boost from Zeal.  Even though he wasn’t striking back yet, it was clear he was learning Parasite’s pattern of attack. Just as Parasite had watched Zeal in their duel, Zellig was gauging his opponent and waiting for his opening.  

But once Interface flopped backwards, Zellig stumbled, disrupted by some invisible force.  Rebelling against its owner, one of Zellig’s arms twisted itself out of socket. Before he could react, one leg stepped wildly to the side and left his guard wide open for Parasite to land a dozen blows.  Zellig attempted to reach forward, but the hand turned away from Parasite, refusing to comply. The Trillodan commander turned towards us, realizing how foolish he’d been for leaving Interface able to act.  

Parasite was right about them being arrogant.    

Despite his confidence moments ago, Zellig was worried.  Every attempt at a counterattack was met with his body fighting back; Zellig growled and roared in frustration as Parasite ran in and out, a blur of motion and manic energy.  To add insult to injury, Exchange sprinted in and joined the fray, binding himself to the massive steel wall that Warden had created. As resolute as Zellig was, he was enduring a heap of abuse that he had clearly not prepared himself for.  He tried to pull himself away and bolt for the cube of metal, but Interface had his legs twist and direct him the wrong direction, denying him whatever hellish weapon was contained within.    

As I found the right memory for Organelle, Zellig cried out, “Jai, NOW!” 

Dragoon tracked Zellig’s gaze, raising her right arm to direct our attention.  On a rooftop across the way was a figure with a literal cloak draped about him.  The glimpse I got of his helmet showed a massive green ring in the center.  

“Exchange, deal with him!” Dragoon ordered. 

“Got it!”  The overeager blonde darted away, quickly giving chase to the shrouded figure.  Zellig’s operative leapt down from the building and rolled, rising to his feet with a jet black pistol in hand; Exchange was saved only by his instincts as Jai fired what looked like a silver dart.  

Trample had composed a few beasts that had caused discord among the regular foot soldiers, but the gun shot got the Druid’s attention; Trample deemed that Gnaw and Dancer had the infantry under control and turned her attention to Jai.  Using a small switchblade she’d kept in a pocket, she made a small incision across her palm and forced out a few drops of blood. As soon as they touched the ground, the blood blossomed into a crystalline spire and exploded outward, assuming the form of a stag beetle that was the size of a small car.  Trample pointed and her monstrosity charged forward.  

Jai reached to his waist and fished out a different pistol; a single round was fired and the beetle stumbled and collapsed.  Across it’s carapace, sickly green cracks began spreading. It was the same thing we had seen done to all those poor people. In seconds, Trample’s beetle turned into one of those oozes and headed our way.  One more casualty from that freak’s horrific arsenal. How many more people would we see turned into ooze? I wondered how satisfying it would be to turn that technology on him, to dissolve him in to a puddle.       

“Menagerie, those things hate heat,” Dragoon said.  

Our Peculiar artist needed no further prompts.  She flipped through a notebook and ripped a few pages out, conjuring a pair of what looked like lions who had substituted fur for smoldering embers.  Instead of a mane, there was a wreath of blue fire that had a life of its own. Menagerie looked towards the slime and her fiery cats leapt into action, each releasing a torrent of flame as soon as they were within range.  

It was hard for me to focus with everything happening.  Trying to concentrate was hard enough with Zeal’s power pulling my mind in two different directions.  With the world going to shit around me, I was slow to find the right resonance for Organelle. She was not a re-creation I wanted to fuck up; she manipulated cellular functions and organic processes.  If I botched her power who knew what horrific shit I’d end up doing to Distortion and Adamant?  

Slowly but surely, I pieced together the right frequency and began letting the threads of light weave together. A few precious seconds later and I had created a faithful duplicate of everyone’s favorite caretaker.  

The construct gave me a look as if to ask for instructions.  

“Right,” I muttered, caught off guard by how angry I sounded.  “Figure out what’s wrong with them.” The duplicate nodded and knelt beside Distortion, running a hand over her slowly like she was running a small CAT scan.  

Beside me, Trample snarled as a third one of her constructs was turned into an ooze by Jai.  Still, she added another incision on her arm, as if somehow she would win this war of attrition.  Jai found himself struggling with Exchange. The blonde teenager had clearly taken our words to heart and wanted to prove that he could get better, that he could offer more to the group in a fight.  Jai tried to take aim but Exchange slapped aside the barrel this time, sending the dart from the pistol into the ground.

Jai swung, a blade extending from a cuff; Exchange evaded and sprinted forward, driving a fist straight into the operative’s chest.  Jai went for his belt to grab some kind of canister, but Exchange smacked it away and drove a fist into his side. Before Jai could respond, Exchange hit him in the head hard enough to break his helmet.  Jai fell to the side and the Enhancer chased after him, picking up an incredible amount of speed. Jai endured a kick to the ribs, but he managed to snag a canister from his belt this time; it exploded and  Exchange took a full dose of the inhalant. As Jai pulled himself up to his feet, Exchange sank to his knees, coughing and clawing at his throat. Still, Exchange had the presence of mind to throw himself clear as the Trillodan took aim with his handgun.  Jai took aim a second time, but Warden was quick to construct a wall between the two.    

I did not want to see any of my teammates turned into a slime, no matter how recent an addition they were.  I couldn’t imagine how much more rage would build as a result. I reminded myself to say thank you to Warden later.      

“Something has her paralyzed,” my Organelle copy said, her voice  strangely robotic. “Something is keeping them from waking up. Like something literally shut off her brain.” It was strange to hear my construct talk, like it had a mind of its own.  Though, how else was it supposed to relay information?  

“What is it?”

My construct blinked twice and looked back down at the bodies, “I don’t know.  It isn’t a poison, I know that much.”

“Figure out,” Dragoon said, not taking her eyes off the scene, watching Parasite in particular.  It was her childhood friend…and I could feel how angry she was not being able to help. It was good that Zeal hadn’t dosed her with his power, otherwise she’d have tried to fight despite her numerous injuries.    

Just from reputation, I knew that Zellig was a pro.  Combat was his art form, and he had been training his hand at this longer than all of us put together; with Interface crippling him, he looked out of his element, especially compared to Parasite.  Warden was helping as best he could, conjuring chains and snaring Zellig as best he could to create openings for our friend to batter that grey and leathery hide. Beside me, Menagerie glared at the Trillodan commander and ripped another page out of her notebook.  

For a moment, I forgot the rage and building animosity that Zeal had bestowed on me.  As Menagerie’s drawing burned, a familiar purple and gold anthropomorphic insect rose in our midst.  Even though he was gone, Menagerie had promised to save a part of Mutant and draw him an excellent portrait.  She had kept her promise, and it reminded me that there was so much more at stake here than just my petty need for revenge.  Mutant had died fighting to keep us safe; letting myself succumb to rage and impulsivity would only tarnish his memory.

I knew that Menagerie’s creations wouldn’t last long, but it thrilled me to see our lost comrade fighting alongside Parasite once again.    

“Organelle,” I said to my construct, my head much clearer, “What have you found?” 

The brunette frowned as she scanned over again, finally resting her fingers at the base of Distortion’s spine.  “There’s a device here. Something burrowed in her skin. It’s emitting a small pulse, keeping her nervous system nearly entirely paralyzed.”  

“Can you get it out?” I asked.

“It won’t be her purview,” Dragoon said, “She’s made to fix cellular issues.  If it was a poison or even a parasite she could. We need to carve that out.”  

“Then cut it out,” Menagerie insisted.  

Our captain grabbed her limp, left arm, “I can’t.  I can’t pick up my arm.”  

Back when we had fought Kalr, the demolitionist, and Jai, Dragoon had been hit by an explosive because I’d been too slow to raise a wall for us.  The blast and tumble must have done enough damage to undo all the work that Mother Audrey had done for her. Because of me, her arm was shattered again.  Though, it wasn’t just me. It was these monsters who had maimed her in the first place. It was because of these bastards that Dragoon might have issues building and creating in the future.    

“I’ll do it,” Zeal said with a grin, “As long as someone has a blade for me to use.”  

Warden wordlessly fished out a boxcutter and tossed it to the head of Serpentine.  

A loud crack ripped through the air, the same crack that had heralded Distortion and Adamant going down.  I tracked the noise and looked up, spotting Jai with a rifle aimed straight at Zeal. As Jai adjusted his aim, Exchange slammed into him and sent him tumbling again.  Looking at Zeal, I could see a tiny little red spot on his cheek that hadn’t been there a second ago. 

“Zeal, power yourself!” Dragoon shouted.  

He dropped the boxcutter and convulsed as he gave himself a dose of his power, just enough to keep him conscious despite the machine trying to halt his nervous system.  “Hard to-to think. No-no control,” he stammered, looking at me. “Need another cutter.”  

“Warden, don’t worry about Zellig!  Parasite and Interface have him for now.  Carve that shit out of Distortion’s neck! We need to get out of here.”  

He obeyed Dragoon’s command and ran forward, picking up the boxcutter.  “Tell me where,” he asked the duplicate of Organelle.  

She placed her finger on a little red spot on the side of Distortion’s neck, “Right there.  Don’t cut too deep.”  

Despite Zeal’s power giving me extra strength, the tax of keeping Organelle constructed was starting to weigh on me.  “Warden, cut fast,” I said, “Soon I’m going to lose her.”  

He nodded, setting to work with the boxcutter and making a clean incision in her skin.  “What exactly-” 

Another loud crack ripped through the air, but this time something got in the way.  

Eldritch was fully grown now.  Eight and a half feet of Neklim muscle glared down at Jai.  Even though Eldritch was encased in a wall of meat and muscle, I could feel his rage.  Like me, like all of us, he was tired of feeling small, tired of feeling insignificant.  

And now, he was anything but.    

A blond blur darted behind Jai, but this time the Trillodan operative was ready for another reckless charge.  He turned, ready with a handful of powder that Exchange literally ran through; he tripped and fell flat on his face, rolling a few meters past his intended target.  Exchange rolled on his side and started hacking up his lungs, his body folding as his diaphragm expelled every bit of air from his body. Jai reached to his hip and drew the hand canon that had turned a few of Trample’s animals to oozes and turned it onto our massive Neklim comrade.

I tensed as he pulled the trigger six times in a row.  I expected to see green lines cut a path through Eldritch and disintegrate my teammate, but it never happened.  Instead, a handful of growths were expelled from the collective, landing on the ground with a gross squish.  Eldritch barreled forward, ejecting other tainted portions of his anatomy as Jai tried to dissolve the hulking figure.

A grizzly smile crossed my face as Jai was forced to run, using a literal grapple gun to get himself across the road and away from Eldritch’s grasp.  As soon as he was clear, Jai turned his sights to someone who couldn’t so readily shrug off his weaponry. A green tipped dart flew over the battlefield, towards the brawl between the Trillodan infantry against Gnaw and Dancer.  

Dancer called out a warning, but Gnaw was too slow.  Green cracks lit up across his leg as Jai’s dart found it’s mark; without a glimmer of hesitation, Gnaw reshaped his arm into a massive set of teeth and bit through his own knee, stopping the spread of the affliction.  Even with Zeal’s blessing, he still collapsed, and the Trillodan foot soldiers added a few holes to his torso. Dancer blinked forward to grab her teammate and pull him away; she endured a bevy of lasers but she managed to drag Gnaw away from the dozen and a half soldiers who were still in fighting shape.

“Eldritch, deal with them!” Dragoon instructed, pointing to the squad.  “Menagerie, your pets, sick them on Jai! Trample, give Eldritch some backup.”   

I focused myself back on Warden as he nudged me, “I need extra hands.  I can’t dig in here without someone holding the skin open.”

“Organelle,” I said, “help him.”  

My copy obliged once given direction, holding open Distortion’s neck as he dug in, using the tip of the boxcutter as a little probe.  “It can’t be big,” he said to himself, “It was fired from a gun and barely made an entry wound. So-” he cut himself off. “Do you see that?” he asked me, pointing to a little silver thread.  

“It’s wrapping around her spine.  Be more aggressive with the boxcutter, let’s really get at this thing.”  

Warden gave me a worried look but didn’t disagree.  He made another incision and my copy of Organelle held the skin open.  Sure enough, there was a silver coil of thread wrapped around Distortions spine.  “Great,” he said, annoyed, “I’m going to perform fucking spinal surgery with a fucking boxcutter.”

“You might have to,” Menagerie replied, pointing to Zellig, “Something’s wrong.”  

Parasite had been beating Zellig just a moment earlier, he had been taking advantage of every little opening that Interface had made for him; Zellig was now nearly in full command of his body again, and he was pushing Parasite back.  Even with his speed, Zellig was ready to answer, always prepared with a counter for Parasite’s next attack. As our teammate brought down the staff, Zellig caught it and Parasite by the neck at the same time. One fluid motion stripped Parasite of his weapon and sent him flying into what had been someone’s house.  

In the moment of stillness around him, Zellig turned to us, glaring daggers at Interface as his face twitched one last time.  

Interface sat up, gasping for air.  

“What happened?” Dragoon demanded.

“He-I, how-”

“Interface, what happened?”

“Zellig locked me out!  H-he-he, somehow, kicked me out of his system.  It was like, updating or something! I don’t fucking know!” Interface insisted.  

“Grab him again!”

“I can’t!” Interface exclaimed, “He did something to hide himself from me!  I literally don’t feel his electronic signal anymore, Dragoon. There’s nothing for me to take anymore!” 

Our biggest hindrance on the Trillodan commander was now inert.  Now Parasite was going toe-to-toe with the most dangerous being we had ever fought against, and he was doing it alone.  

“Trample,” Dragoon said, “Send everything you can towards Zellig.  Now!” 

Even though the bitch was confrontational, she clearly understood just how dire things had become.  She snatched the little blade of hers and raked the underside of her arm, her face losing color as she created a pack of what seemed to be a bear/hyena hybrid.  The dozen began charging, even before they were fully grown.  

Zellig tried to go for the metal cube he’d brought with him, but the three frontrunners of Trample’s beasts slammed into him and kept him away.  But, he wouldn’t be stalled for long and Dragoon knew that.  

“Eldritch!  Eat more and get to Zellig!” 

Our massive Druid was being riddled with laser fire, but Eldritch was built to endure.  Gnaw and Dancer had made work of some of the soldiers and that had left plenty of fuel for my teammate to consume and burn to grow.  He had only been eight feet when he charged away, and now he was probably closer to eleven. The soldiers tried to use range to their advantage, but Eldritch was able to turn debris from Warden’s buildings or fragments of the transport ship as projectiles, continuing to keep them on the backfoot.  

Still, the Trillodan were good about keeping together and leaving as little behind for him to consume.  As a unit, the infantry kept retreating and putting rubble in the way, slowing him down with munitions and as much laser fire as they could conjure.  Even though he was a monster, it was clear Eldritch was frustrated and feeling pressure. Barreling forward, Eldritch reached out, his limb stretching far enough to grab a trio of the remaining footsoldiers.  They screamed as they were ripped apart and eaten, adding material to the ever growing monstrosity.  

The survivors retreated back farther, moving away from Zellig to force him to choose one objective.  Eldritch moved to assist with Zellig, but the remaining ten infantry refused to let him go unscathed and directed fire to his legs, slowing him down.  Even if they couldn’t bring him down, they weren’t about to let him get access to their commander that easily.  

“Warden!” 

“On it,” he said, giving up on the spinal surgery for a moment.  Raising his hand, he conjured a cage around the remaining regulars.  It left him out of breath, but it meant that our best countermeasure against Zellig could charge, unhindered.  

As Zellig tore himself free of Trample’s pack, Parasite slammed into the commander.  Zellig’s head snapped to the side, broken from the force of Parasite’s blow.  

In a blur, it snapped back into place and Zellig hit Parasite hard enough to send him tumbling a dozen meters backwards.  The grey-skinned Trillodan grabbed the cube of metal by the handle. There was a hiss of air as some of the metal sprung open, revealing a sphere of glass that looked like it was holding a tesla coil in the middle.  Parasite threw himself back at Zellig, trying to prevent him from using whatever that was on Eldritch.  

A sphere of electricity launched out from Zellig’s cannon, making a dazzling display as Parasite shot back into the wreckage of the Trillodan transport.  Our comrade hit the scrap heap so hard he bounced off and landed face down in the dirt, his body gone completely still.  

Without any hesitation, Zellig turned the weapon on Eldritch. 

It was like a weaponized version of Shock’s power.  The electrical grenades were frying and ripping off hundreds of kilograms of Eldritch at a time, and the force of the blasts were driving him backwards, away from the Trillodan and away from our friend.  Our massive druid was over teen feet tall and within a few seconds had been reduced to under eight. Zellig stepped forward, deliberately driving him back towards us, corralling us.     

Because he knew we still didn’t have a way out.  

Dragoon stomped back to us and flexed her hand that was working.  “Move,” she said to Warden, placing the gauntlet on the back of Distortion’s neck.  “Please don’t kill her,” Dragoon begged as she activated the electromagnet in her glove.  

Spindles of silver were ripped free of Distortion’s spine.  The teleporter was suddenly, alert, screaming in agony as she tried to sit up.  The instant Distortion put weight on her left arm, it buckled, like all the tendons had been cut.  “What did you-” Distortion demanded, wide eyed.  

“Distortion, teleport us,” Dragoon insisted, “Now!”  

She glanced around, trying to figure out exactly what was happening.  “There’s too many-”

“Zeal!” 

The head of Serpentine reached forward, granting her an increased threshold for pain and power.  However, it was starting to show on his face that lending his gift out to so many was exacting a toll.  He was pale and ashen faced, his hands starting to shake as he kept himself upright. He was using his own power to grit through the same thing that had kept Distortion unconscious; how long until he collapsed and everyone here lost the strength he loaned out?

Dancer had dragged Gnaw back to us, both of them looking extremely worse for wear.  Both were soaked in blood and panting with exhaustion. Eldritch had been reduced from probably four tonnes to less than half a tonne in a handful of seconds thanks to Zellig being able to wield goddamn artillery by hand, but he was back with us.  

We had done a good job regrouping around Dragoon…except for one.  

Parasite was still down, removed from us.  Cut off and alone in enemy territory.    

Once Eldritch wasn’t a threat, Zellig leapt over to the wreckage of the transport, grabbing the unconscious form of Parasite.  The Trillodan commander lifted him like a hunting trophy, lording it over us; he had Parasite and we were powerless to take him back.  

“Give me Adamant,” Dragoon demanded, her voice cracking.  This was beyond anger, this was a point of desperation for her.  Zellig had her childhood friend in his clutches, and Adamant was our only way to beat him.  

As Warden made an incision around the spine something made a metallic tink against Dragoon’s suit.  

On the rooftop, Jai gave her a condescending salute as her power armor began to show green cracks.  

“Protocol: Evacuate!” Dragoon shrieked as her suit began to dissolve around her; the whole back of the power armor fell away as each component decoupled.  Our captain literally fell out, throwing herself away from the mess of melting metal.  

As much chaos as there had been, there was a sudden horrific stillness that settled across the battlefield.  Zellig held his quarry aloft. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t need to.     

“We can’t leave him,” Eldritch said, voicing what we all feared.  “Alexis, that’s Murphy! We aren’t going to leave him, right?”

She didn’t answer her friend’s question.  “Disperse the growths. Zeal, give her all you have left.  Distortion,” she said, her voice cracking, “As far away as possible.”  

For one eternity of a second, I watched Zellig lord his capture over us.  I stared long and hard at my comedic partner. I stared at the man who had given so much effort and heart to keep me alive, to keep his friend alive.  I felt like screaming that it wasn’t fair, that Zellig needed to give him back. It wasn’t Parasite’s time to go! Of all of us, take someone who wasn’t Parasite!  Anyone else.    

And then, I entered nothingness, forced to accept a harsh reality.  

Murphy Pell, Parasite, my friend, was our third loss to the Trillodan.    

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