This climactic battle was finally going to happen after all the anticipation and anxious pondering that I’d listened to over the last three days.
Still, even though I had only been a part of their insane crusade for a few days, I felt a strange amount of kinship with these people. Even though I didn’t know most of them, we were all working under one banner with a common purpose and a common foe.
Still, as tensions rose and people made last minute preparations, I wondered if that connection warranted risking life and limb; what won me over was that the Trillodan had come to NaMein and trashed my city. They were the reason that Distortion was crippled and why Exchange had been coughing his lungs up for the last three days. They had taken away my home and I felt that I owed them at least a little something for that.
About twenty minutes ago Forest had come through and started informing people about what they were going to do. i had been told I was needed for special assignment which raised questions for me. I wasn’t one of Titan’s original Adapted or one of his inner circle. Truth be told, a battlefield was likely a place I was at my weakest: too many variables and too many actions to try and control. There was no set goal that would allow me to both fight and survive the chaos.
Titan was operating out of the flight deck, and he wasn’t the only one there waiting for me. Parasite, Ragdoll, and Eldritch were there waiting for orders. Behind Titan, his right hand Infinite offered a weak smile and looked away. The man in the wheelchair was Big Picture, the Cognate who could extrapolate information and draw connections most couldn’t begin to see. I was always leery when dealing with unfamiliar people, but, looking at him washed away any concern; the man wasn’t a threat to us and instead was only interested in seeing Titan’s plan succeed.
I took a quick moment to read the room and establish what everyone else was after: Titan wanted to vanquish, Infinite wanted to withdraw, Parasite wanted revenge, Ragdoll wanted to protect, and Eldritch wanted to prove himself.
“Adamant, welcome,” Titan said, waving me in.
“I seem to be the odd man out,” I said with a bemused smile, “Though I appreciate the invitation to your war room all the same.”
“Nonsense,” he replied, beckoning me forward. “We’re all Adapted. And, you’re just the man for the job.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Big Picture cleared his throat, “It’s not a surprise to either the Trillodan or us that we plan to use Eldritch. He has unrivaled potential and this is the perfect scenario to let him go on a rampage. The only problem is that we don’t have an unlimited amount of material to start him with thanks to Repository making metal for the construction crew. So, our best guess is that Zellig is going to cut him down early to prevent Eldritch from swinging the conflict one way or the other.”
“We’re playing bodyguard,” Ragdoll summed up with a hint of pride in his voice. I glanced at him, noticing that his goal included two individuals; he sought to fulfill Titan’s mission, but he was also looking to protect the other Enhancer beside him.
“We believe that your ability to set an unbreakable goal will be the perfect gift for this mission,” Titan said.
I shrugged, “If you think that’s what’s going to be best, who am I to argue? I’m not a Cognate or really anyone with any say. But,” I added, looking to Eldritch, “I’d be happy to help get you powered up.” Part of me was curious to see what Eldritch on a proper rampage would look like. I’d only heard mention of ‘Feast Day’ while hanging around the other Adapted; fortunately Menagerie had been nice enough to enlighten me in-between sketches: apparently Eldritch had lost control and ravaged half a city back on Tso’got. It had taken the combined might of Titan and Forest to bring him down.
“There’s also a little more to it than just that,” Ragoll said, “We’re going to have a secondary objective once Eldritch is good enough to start running amok on his own.”
I glanced at the Enhancer in the black bodysuit, getting an interesting sense of righteous rage from him. Whatever he was about to disclose, there was some personal vitriol in there. “What is that?”
“You are going to go after Zellig himself,” Titan answered.
I grinned, knowing this was more my speed. “Now it makes sense why you want me. You want someone that can’t lose to Zellig. But,” I said, directing my question to Big Picture, “Why the fuck would he be down here?”
Big Picture wrung his hands, clearly anxious about how much sway his words were having. He wasn’t a combatant, that much was clear. He was used to being in the background, away from it all. Right now he was too close for comfort and that was wearing on his nerves. “Zellig seems to have an infatuation with violence and being right against it. It’s my assumption he’s going to be overlooking the battle, likely on top of a neighboring hill that will be out of Forest’s reach. He’ll likely involve himself after the Ellayans engage. Odds are he’ll make direct orders from the battlefield once more Trillodan soldiers come to the forefront.”
“We’re going to disrupt him, and keep him from ever entering the fray,” Parasite said, his voice flat. Even though I had only known him a little bit of time before he was taken, Parasite had changed drastically. There wasn’t much of that usual pep to him, instead he was cold. There were clear thoughts of revenge and settling a score.
I had to admit, I appreciated the unapologetic violent side of Parasite.
“Alright,” I said with a grin, “I’ll do it. But, I’m a bit curious how we’re going to deal with our initial lack of soldiers or common footmen. We’re against thousands and there’s only about a hundred and fifty of us.”
“A handful of people who can make copies or animals to fight for them. Psycho is going to be our biggest front line while I get spun up,” Eldritch answered. “He’s already amassing projections. Besides him there are people like Menagerie and a handful of others who can make minions to do their bidding.”
“How long until we go?”
“You’re going to go now,” Titan said, his face turning serious. “Adamant, my suggestion is that you follow along with Ragdoll; even though you’ve never fought with him, he knows what he’s doing. Distortion will get you three relatively close to the city and work towards the coast, the faster that Eldritch towers over the city, the faster that we can diffuse their whole militia.”
“Understood.” I contemplated telling Titan that I didn’t care for the way he simply assumed control of my lackey but he had also been the reason that she had been healed and was able to walk at all. Plus, now wasn’t the time to be taking on a power struggle, we both had bigger fish to fry.
We moved back down with a sense of urgency, heading outside to where Distortion was waiting, teleporting people to various positions to maximize their damage in the pending battle. Powerhouse had complimented her well, offering Distortion a fix to her one big shortcoming of range. It turns out that for Powerhouse, offering someone a range modification was a cinch and took almost none of her potential allowance. Titan had been quick to exploit that fact and had gotten tremendous amounts of work done with my arrogant teammate.
Outside was more electric and abuzz than inside of the ark ship. While the Cognates and tactically oriented individuals were hunkering down, outside there were dozens and dozens of combat oriented Selected waiting to get on with it. While I didn’t know nearly everyone who hailed from Tso’got, I recognized a few people from Vuuldar that I knew through reputation and thanks to Exchange’s infatuation with others like us.
A buxom red-head named Calamity was saying a prayer with Demon. The two of them had been a pair in a town down the coast from NaMein, both of them notorious fiends and criminals as if they had to live up to their name. Beside them, Effigy was trying to calm his breathing as he looked down at the city we were about to lay waste to, absent-mindedly lighting his hands on fire and extinguishing them as if to calm the nerves.
The one that stood out to me was Stampede. As much disdain as I had for her, I was impressed with the horde of animals she had spawned in preparation for this showdown. It was easily a troupe of at least thirty mutated elephants and rhinos, all clearly bestowed thickers hides and more menacing teeth and tusks. Along her arm she let the blood continue to drip free from the self-inflicted lacerations, each few drops coalescing and growing into another twisted animal for her collection. Down the line from her was Psycho, filling the place with neon-colored monsters that were even less founded in reality. I was leery of them turning on me, but I took a moment to monitor Psycho’s intent and he only had eyes for the Trillodan.
Of all the people I had taken stock of, he was arguably the most enraged and emotionally invested.
“Ragdoll!” a shrill voice called above the din. All four of us turned around to see a girl with short black hair and a colorful robe sprint up to us, sucking for air the whole time. “Titan, wanted me to give you something,” she managed to get out between gasps.
“So you’re Powerhouse,” I said for my own information.
“Yeah,” she said, clearly struggling to stay upright, “Sorry, I’ve spent the last three days mostly asleep as I lend out powers.”
“Why is he getting a power?” Eldritch asked, genuine in his curiosity.
To my surprise, it wasn’t her that volunteered an answer. “Because he is the most gifted with his Adaptation. Ragdoll is used to perfectly using extra gifts, almost like he was built for it.” There was a hint of adoration from Parasite, a token bit of idolization. I wondered if he was even aware of those extra feelings that tinged his words and motivations.
“Besides, I need the help,” Ragdoll said with a playful laugh. “I’m just an idiot who throws himself around all the time. Parasite’s a badass and Adamant, I hear you can be unbeatable if you set it up.”
I shrugged, “Depending on the context, yes.”
Powerhouse quickly laid a hand on Ragdoll and seemed to will a little sliver of light to slide into his palm. “You’ve got it for six hours. Be sure to get it back before then or losing it is going to hurt like hell. And it’s pretty taxing. I wouldn’t use it until you really need some extra oomph.”
As she left, Eldritch couldn’t seem to rip his look away from Ragdoll, his curiosity getting the better of him. “What-”
Ragdoll vanished and appeared a step behind Eldritch. “Short range teleportation. And my guess is that it holds momentum between blinks as well.”
“Well, now I feel a little short changed,” I said with faux offense. “I could certainly use a gift like that.”
“Don’t be bitter. Even with it, I still probably can’t beat you.”
I flashed a small grin but didn’t bother to confirm his suspicion. Instead I changed my focus to Distortion as we got closer to her chair. Collector, a woman who could store objects in a pocket dimension, had procured a literal cabana for Distortion to rest under and served as a good rally point for anyone who had specific instructions from Titan.
Once she noticed us, I saw a little glimmer of relief, though it vanished as soon as it showed. Distortion had that air of arrogance to maintain, even if she was secretly glad to get a moment of face time with me. While she would never admit it, Distortion needed me to provide some guidance and restraint on her behalf. Even though some had accused me of being abusive at times, there were simply things that needed to be strongly reinforced and Distortion had always looked to push boundaries, even when strongly warned against it.
When I had met her, she was homeless and hungry, chewed up and spat out by the close-knit social cliques that managed to survive on Vuuldar. I had taken her in but ensured that she learned how to present and be civil which was… challenging. However, the fact she hadn’t tried to do anything stupid here was a relief; all my time spent barking at her and reminding her of her proper role and purpose had sunk in.
Or she might be terrified of the fact that Forest was literally everywhere at all times and could listen in whenever she wanted. That kind of looming threat did wonders for keeping one in line.
“Forest told me about where you guys are going.” She cast a sideways glance at Eldritch and Parasite, still not entirely trusting them. Word that Parasite had come back from a Trillodan prison had made a lot of people leery about his presence and Distortion needed almost no reason to be paranoid. “All of you are going to the same place?”
“Yes,” I said. I looked her up and down, noticing that she looked tired, worn out. “Are you pushing yourself too hard?” I asked softly, keeping the information between us.
“Overworked, but having purpose is good,” she confessed. “Not as hands on as I’d like.”
I flashed her a genuine smile. Most of the people seemed happier under Titan’s leadership because it had clear direction and purpose, something that all of us craved. “Well, let’s be about it then,” I commanded.
“Stand still,” she instructed as she raised a hand.
A second later, all of us plunged into nothingness, materializing inside a small grocery store that had been cleaned out and abandoned recently. I wasn’t one who gave a damn about other people getting in the way of this coming conflict, but I could see that the absence of other humans offered some solace to Eldritch. I was still worried about his conviction and mental tenacity in regards to his follow through but for now he seemed resolute enough.
Soon enough he wouldn’t have a choice but to fight anyways.
“Get started,” Ragdoll said to the Druid, taking charge of our little squad now that we were abandoned. I didn’t challenge him for leadership; it was obvious how comfortable he was in a position of control. He was deemed gifted among his peers and I wasn’t going to cause any dissent by disregarding their opinions. Even though his power seemed lackluster, he had undying respect from people like Beleth and Shockwave who were infamous enough that Exchange had gushed about them long before we’d met them in person.
Eldritch nodded, stripping off his shirt and trousers as onyx colored tendrils grew from the surface of his skin, quickly disguising the form of the teenager who had spawned them. Even though I knew what to expect, I shuddered at seeing him actually take his form. I had fought alongside him before against one of the Trillodan’s creations but there was just something off-putting about watching Nick fade behind the guise of Eldritch.
“How much did you get to start with?” Parasite asked.
“Four hundred kilos,” he said, his voice altered to a hiss. “I’m going to do fifty percent to start. Eight tonnes should buy me some breathing room.”
“We’re going to get you to thirty tonnes and then assume you’ll be good to go on your own,” Ragdoll said. “Adamant, you’re good to go?”
I nodded, “Don’t worry, Ragdoll, I will protect Eldritch while he grows.”
The world rippled for me, my goal becoming an unbreakable promise that I had to uphold. Around Eldritch, a green glow crept into existence to guide me to my objective. I could feel him at the periphery of my senses, like some kind of homing beacon that called to me. Everyone heard that my power was simply to accomplish anything, but that wasn’t the whole truth. My goal was going to guide me to success and enable me along the way. The cost was that I had to see it through.
Until Eldritch weighed thirty tonnes, I was bound to him as his bodyguard.
A lighter shade of green settled upon Parasite and Ragdoll: they shared my goal but weren’t the primary focus. Any kind of power I obtained wouldn’t be as strong if I tried to intervene and protect them. I could have made my phrasing more sweeping, but I wouldn’t be bestowed as much power to fulfill my objective that way. The more specific and narrow my focus, the stronger I was.
Besides, I wasn’t worried about them either way. I’d seen Parasite go balls to the walls against Zeal and endure some serious punishment. If Ragdoll was on par with him, they didn’t need my help.
“Eldritch,” Ragdoll said, peering at the growing mass of tendrils that was filling the room, “You’re ready for this? No Feast Day?”
There was hesitation from Eldritch which wasn’t exactly comforting. “I’ll manage. I have a clear goal to fight the Trillodan and the Ellayan militia. I can do this.”
“You’re goddamn right you can,” Ragdoll assured. “Let’s get it done.”
Eldritch lumbered forward, bashing through the door as he continued to grow. He was already ten feet tall and still growing. “Do we even really need to help him get bigger?” I whispered to Parasite as Ragdoll and Eldritch took the lead.
“He mutates and develops more powers the longer he can sustain the form. The more he grows, the harder he gets to put down. If he hits a critical mass, he simply won’t go down. This is the only time he’s really vulnerable.”
I shrugged, still a bit dubious as I looked at the towering monstrosity. “Yeah. Vulnerable. That’s how I’d describe him.”
Parasite and I jogged to keep up with Eldritch as Ragdoll turned and literally launched himself on top of a two story building. I had been told he had a peculiar means of moving around, but no one had done it justice. For as strange as it looked, the fucker moved with alarming efficiency. He kept guiding us forward, having us slowly close the gap between us and the Ellayan’s while all the other Adapted moved forward, letting the brigade of conjured animals lead the charge and soak the initial damage. Rough estimates were pitting us against five-thousand Ellayans. Each one of us had to take fifty with them to rout their militia.
While I believed that was doable, the Trillodan weren’t going to make it that simple.
A horrific screech and battle cry interrupted my thoughts; all the creations were rampaging down and the literal stampede of monsters was audible over a kilometer away.
“Let’s go!” Ragdoll shouted and we took off, the three of us following the lumbering figure of Eldritch as he shambled forward, his immense legs each taking him as far as six of mine. For two full minutes, all we could hear was the distant animal cries and orders being shouted in the distance on a speaker system.
The clamor only got louder as we drew closer. Finally we spilled out into the back end of their warfront, by a weapons depot. In front of us, buildings had been swept away to make a massive clearing and landing for the Ellayans coming up from the sea to participate in the battle. A few Trillodan sheds littered the fabricated courtyard but was otherwise a mostly flat staging area that had mostly emptied as the first wave of Ellayans had pushed forward. Even though the first push might be gone, there were still plenty of people lingering behind, waiting for orders from their alien overlords.
I almost felt pity for them as we came onto the scene.
A pair of Ellayan guards rounded and were immediately beset upon by Ragdoll; one still managed to scream and sound the alarm, getting fifty figures to turn our way. All of the Ellayans were wearing simple ballistic armor and equipped with a laser rifle. All the figures who turned echoed the scream and turned on Eldritch, firing into the gargantuan mass of tendrils with reckless abandon.
I felt my power flare as my objective was threatened. Strength dumped into my body, as well as speed. All of these people needed to be stopped. They were hurting Eldritch and reducing his size, both diametrically opposed to my stated objective.
As fast as Ragdoll could throw himself, I was faster now. Three massive bounds closed the gap between me and a group of six Ellayans who were closer towards us; all of them were knocked aside as I unleashed a flurry of blows. Bones and armor shattered as I neutralized the threat, seeking the next pack to target. My power waned slightly as the next group turned their attention to me, taking their sights off Eldritch.
Even though they wanted to stop him, their primary focus had shifted to stopping me. I had to be careful and spend a moment evading their fire to avoid injury. While I would be durable enough to take a few hits, I didn’t want to deal with burns or other injury due to carelessness. The Ellayans weren’t quick enough to correct their aim and track me, letting me get close with a few quick steps. This lot took a little more effort on my part, but the four of them stood no chance once I was close.
It didn’t help that Eldritch roared, stunning everyone unlucky enough to be in front of him. I dared to glance back as our monster kept growing with his massive form lurching forward, being peppered by volleys of lasers that bored and drilled into a seemingly endless supply of dark and slippery flesh. The Ellayans that Ragdoll and myself were knocking down tried to scramble away from the towering figure but their screams were drowned out as Eldritch walked on them, quickly adding their flesh to his bulk.
No matter how well drilled the Trillodan had made this militia, they were not prepared for such a spectacle.
“Parasite, officers!” Ragdoll shouted, gesturing into the thick of the mob. Sure enough, two figures were clearly directing the militia, trying to get the indigenous people rallied against our splinter group.
I wrinkled my nose in disgust as Parasite seemed to almost flip himself inside out, his skin taking on a dark and splotchy red color. For a moment, I was worried as the Ellayans began to turn fire onto him, but Parasite shrugged off lasers like they were nothing, his new form taking punishment better than I could. He tore through a small crowd, battling his way to the Trillodan officers and dispatching them with a cold efficiency that made even me a bit afraid.
Eldritch let out another roar as we pressed forward, now towering over us at nearly fifteen feet in stature. More and more Ellayan’s were turning on him as he became a bigger and bigger target, but lasers were seeming to have less and less effect. Whether it was because of sheer size or because he was developing some kind of mutation to mitigate the weaponry, I wasn’t sure. But Parasite was right, it was clear that this train was only going to pick up steam unless something was to cut us short now.
Right on cue, a massive explosion ripped apart Eldritch’s flank. A second followed soon after, this one clipping a huge chunk of his shoulder away, raining gore and ash on the ground behind him.
A pair of what looked like metal slugs rolled into the clearing, each one taking another blast out of Eldritch. While he was growing and offsetting the damage already, Eldritch had been stopped for now. I got the sense that he’d run out of material to repair himself before the tanks ran out of ammunition.
“Adamant,” Ragdoll shouted, “You’re up!”
I grinned to myself, feeling a bit smug that I was needed to deal with this threat. Titan had clearly realized that there would be some Trillodan weaponry that neither Ragdoll or Parasite could simply bludgeon through; instead he had picked me as a way to level the playing field, no matter what Zellig and his forces would throw at us.
My power surged, the threat to my objective prompting a new dose of strength. Both palms started to glow red hot and I practically flew through the crowd, ignoring the remaining small fry between me and the tanks. They each took another shot before I could get to them, taking chunks out of Eldritch’s legs and forcing him to fall on all fours. I snarled as I pressed a hand to the surface of the tank; the hull retaliated by sending an electrical arc into my hand to deter me. I cried out in surprise as I was blasted backwards, my muscles shorting out.
I fell to the ground in a heap, my own physiology protesting as my power filled in the gap. The Trillodan were still targeting Eldritch, still defying my objective. My physiology screamed in protest as my power demanded more of my flesh, rapidly repairing my fried arm and nervous system, compelling me back to my feet. My power was ready this time as I pressed my hand back against the armor plating, melting through the thick steel until I could gain purchase. The inhabitants panicked as I ripped a hunk of the hull away and stepped in. Both of the drivers screamed as I pressed a hand to their chest, cooking them alive inside their armor.
Another explosion drove me back to the other tank to repeat the process and dispose of its occupants.
While I had been dealing with them, Parasite and Ragdoll had been literally throwing bodies to Eldritch, feeding him as he regenerated and swelled back up to his immense fifteen-foot stature. As he started moving forward, any attempt to stop his advance wasn’t dealt with swiftly enough: Ragdoll was masterful at skirting around the edges of the fight to deal with heavy gunners or groups aiming to flank us, Parasite could charge through the middle and cut down the Trillodan officers trying to create resistance, and I could cripple any machinery the Trillodan tried to employ.
Our blood advance continued until we had fed Eldritch sixty bodies. All at once, I felt my power vanish and leave me feeling remarkably vulnerable. My goal had been met, the quota that Ragdoll had set was reached. “Ragdoll, I’m tapped out!” I shouted.
The Enhancer threw himself down towards me and Parasite joined us, the three of us giving a salute to Eldritch as he lumbered forward, making his way forward into the flank of the Ellayan militia and continuing to grow as he picked up corpses off the ground and added them to his immense mass. He had developed the ability to extend his limbs like elastic and generated some kind of toughness for his whole body. As he stomped forward, Ellayans scurried to get away from him; any who were too slow were swept up by his massive limbs and turned into food for the war machine we’d helped turn him into.
My power was sated: Eldritch had been protected until he was strong enough to defend himself and we’d sent him headlong into the flank of the Ellayan militia, just like Titan had wanted.
“Good job guys,” Ragoll said with a satisfied smile. “You guys ready for what comes next?”
Parasite let himself switch back to looking like a human for a moment, catching his breath after being turned inside out for nearly twenty minutes. I watched his eyes track Eldritch as he lumbered into the maze of buildings where the majority of the fighting was happening. I could feel Parasite’s inner conflict as he wanted to rip his friend free of that immense monster that we had helped create.
Ragdoll could tell what he was thinking as well. “Murphy,” he said softly, “He’s going to be okay. We have to trust him.”
“The last time he was that big he tried to kill me,” Parasite whispered. “He smashed a building after I promised that we were going to get him out. I just helped put him back in that prison. Are we doing the right thing making him do this, Rags?”
Ragdoll reached an arm around his shoulder, pulling him closer. “Eldritch is a badass and he’s grown a lot since then. He’ll be okay. I promise.”
Even without my ability to read intent, I knew tension when I saw it. “Alright, as much as I appreciate the budding romance between you two, maybe now isn’t the best time.”
Both of them looked at me, then looked at how close they were to one another, each quickly taking a step to the side and looking at the ground, both blushing.
I cackled, enjoying the momentary break of tension from the previous half hour of carnage and stress. “You two should really take a bit and sort yourself out after this.”
“We have to live through seeing him next,” Parasite muttered, his voice a mix of hostility and dread. While Ragdoll seemed almost a little hurt that Parasite had changed tracks so quickly, it was for the best. We had work to do and the two of them being distracted wouldn’t help.
“Relax,” I said with a grin, “You have me. Zellig can’t beat me.”
Parasite wasn’t entirely convinced but Ragdoll was willing to buy into my arrogant optimism. Reaching up, our leader tapped an earpiece he’d been given at the start of the day. “Distortion, have you guys found him?” After a brief pause, “We’re ready for him. We won’t move.”
I took one last glance at Eldritch as he was now taller than basically any building and looming over the city, quickly making himself the centerpiece of the conflict. Explosions and laser fire peppered him, but he wasn’t deterred. “Good luck big guy,” I whispered as the world shimmered around us and we faded into nothing again.
As we came back into existence, we were up on a cliff along the coast, a little ways away from the edge of the city. Like our home base, the vantage had a marvelous view down into the city and over the conflict. Squinting, I could see Eldritch shambling forward and continuing to fight against figures too small for me to make out.
But for the figure a stone’s throw away, he was able to see clearly.
“I wondered when you’d show up,” Zellig said, not bothering to even look at the three of us, instead content to watch the conflict play out below. “Though I admit, I wasn’t expecting a reunion for us so soon, Parasite. What has it been, five hours?”
Rage and intent to kill radiated off Parasite as he glared forward, fuming.
Zellig turned and gave us all a massive grin, displaying a mouth full of razor sharp fangs. “Adamant, I am so sorry for my lack of courtesy last time. I was never given a chance to properly make your acquaintance.”
“Charmed,” I said with a grin as I took a moment to study him. It was easy to read his arrogance and extreme self-confidence. His intentions were simple, or at least could all be encompassed in a simple directive: win.
“You must realize that Titan sent you all to your death by sending you here,” Zellig pronounced as he turned to us, rolling his neck and shrugging his shoulders, getting ready to fight.
Ragdoll stepped forward, defiant, “I’ve personally been looking forward to getting a chance to take your head off. I owe you one for Transport.”
The Trillodan commander laughed, “Oh, all of you have a beef to pick with me. But, there’s only one way this ends,” he said honestly.
“You’re right, Zellig. It only ends one way because I will kill you,” I promised.