I had lost contact with Infinite after she engaged with Eldritch. We had all watched, pensive, as Eldritch came apart at the seams; Infinite had taken Big Picture’s advice and made a power suited for Eldritch specifically. It all seemed to be going so well until the beam from the Crimson City came crashing down.
For a moment, I had been worried it might have killed her, but then Eldritch appeared next to me. The terrified kid told us Infinite had sent him away and stayed behind to brawl with Zellig himself. As soon as I heard that, I started looking for Distortion, despite the protest of Big Picture.
“Titan, you shouldn’t throw yourself out there! Infinite is a bigger danger to him than he is to her. You and I both know what she’s capable of! She would flatten the city before she loses to him.”
“It’s not a fight I’m worried about,” I muttered as I picked up my pace, stomping down the ramp and towards the little cabana where Distortion was sitting, “Zellig has been playing mind games with people for years. She had to undo a huge power set and rebuild one to save Eldritch. Two full power sets without Command to help her; she’s going to be vulnerable. Zellig is going to know to exploit her fragility!”
“And how do you know that he’s not just using her vulnerability to sucker you away from the ship and away from all the defenses we have erected here? Zellig would also be smart enough to exploit your affection and seize an opportunity to attack the head of the snake.”
I wanted to shout at Big Picture, but he had a valid point. “Are you insinuating that I can’t hold my own?”
Big Picture looked offended as he pulled his wheelchair right beside me. “Of course I’m not saying that. However, it’s still the Trillodan. Do you think that even with a one second warning, you’ll survive that orbital cannon? Do you think you could ensure a whole city block rigged to blow? You aren’t invincible, Titan.”
“No. But I’m much more expendable than she is. I’m just a big gun you can point at something. Infinite can do fucking anything we need her to do. I’m absolutely-“
I didn’t finish my sentence because the world glowed red again, another blast from that cannon laying waste in the city. This time, there was an answer to the electricity and power in the air, a chill that seemed to creep along your skin.
“No, please no,” I whispered. A split second later, a black cloud consumed a massive chunk of the city, suffocating anyone too close. When she had altered, Charlotte had killed everyone within a city block; this was several magnitudes larger. “Pic, how bad?”
He gulped down a nervous lump as he looked at the lingering cloud, “I’d guess a full kilometer around her.”
A mass of roots sprouted from the grass as Forest materialized beside me, “Tell me you aren’t going down there,” she demanded, looking cross.
“Forest, if she lost control that means she won’t have any powers at her disposal. She’s vulnerable.”
“And you don’t know if you can breathe that air,” Forest replied. “I’m not about to let you go kill yourself. Way too many people need you, you daft idiot!”
I shouldered past her only for her to pop back up in front of me. “Titan, the reason we didn’t send you out is because Zellig will throw everything at you once you’re away from me. I can’t protect you if you go down there. I move too slow.”
“Get out of my way!” I tried to push past her again, but a mass of tree roots grew around my arm.
“Titan, if you die, we’re without a leader. That’s a power that Infinite and I don’t have.”
“If we don’t have Infinite, we can’t get away from them. They will chase us down and blow our ship to pieces without her to get us clear of that fucking Crimson City. I can’t lead a dogfight in space!” I glared at the mass of roots around my arm, “Forest, let go.”
“Max,” she said, using my name like a cautionary measure.
“Delilah,” I shot back, letting her know I wasn’t going to budge. “I will not leave Charlotte down there. We need her. Even if you don’t trust her, we need her.”
She sighed and released my arm. “Be careful.”
I nodded as her form dispersed. Big Picture was still nearby, looking like he had something he desperately wanted to say. “Out with it.”
“Infinite can survive the beam, but you can’t. I think the Trillodan might be trying to sucker you out and away from the rest of us to kill you. Forest is right: without you we flounder. We’re too disparate and self-serving. You’re one of the few objective members among us who can think beyond a selfish goal.”
I let out a wry laugh, “Well, Zellig has me by the balls then. We can’t live without Infinite. While Dragoon can make the ship run, we need Infinite to get clear of the Trillodan. Unless you’ve got another idea up your sleeve that we can use in the next few hours.”
Big Picture shook his head.
“In that case, keep track of things here. I want to know how bad it is once I get back.”
Taking a deep breath, I walked up to the perpetually displeased Distortion. Her irritable façade cracked for a moment as I got close, displaying some nerves. She was still afraid of me, or possibly just jumpy after the trauma of her first encounter with Zellig and his cohorts.
“Get me as close as you can to her,” I demanded. “Dead center of where that cloud originated.”
“That’s nearly three kilometers away. Even with Powerhouse giving me extra range, I’m pretty well spent. I don’t want to leave part of you behind.”
“Just do it,” I growled, not bothering to try and filter my anger. Everyone was trying to keep me slowed down, costing me valuable time that I would need to retrieve Infinite.
Distortion at least had the good sense to shut her mouth after my first rebuke.
“I’ll get you as close as I can,” she promised.
A second later, I was in that void of nothingness, and then I found myself amidst an eerily still city. For a single moment, I felt a pang of guilt as I could hear others fighting the Trillodan in the distance.
I pushed it from my mind; I had my own war to fight.
My focus shifted to the threads that hung in the air. Visible only to me, they were the ignition for my power; all of them could be pulled and turned into a trigger for my reaction. Reaching out, I grabbed and pulled a few together. A sound reminiscent of an acetylene torch echoed through the quiet as I boosted myself into the air on a column of molten silicon, using the height to search for my companion. I landed on one of the few buildings that survived Eldritch’s rampage, feverishly scouting.
“Come on, Charlotte,” I muttered, my own anxiety growing. “Come on, come on, come on, where are you?”
Over and over I boosted myself around, trying to think of what to do once I found her. These episodes were followed by a short period where Infinite was stripped of her overwhelming power. For a few moments, she was reduced to being just Charlotte. The only way around that was for Command to be present, to smooth out the conflict in her psyche.
“I shouldn’t have let her go without him,” I growled at myself, wishing there was someone else to blame. “I shouldn’t have let her go alone. I shouldn’t have been so fucking stupid.”
I landed on a heap of rubble this time to scout for her and give my Adaptation a rest; again it was a bust. But, just before I took off, I heard something that caught my attention. A metallic thudding, like heavy metal shoes tromping down the street.
While there was the sound of metal clashing in the distance, this was far too close.
I gave myself another boost and finally found Infinite, and three figures in power armor bearing down on her.
“Get away from her!” I roared, firing a molten salvo to drive them back. I sprinted forward and slid in beside Infinite, putting a hand in front of her mouth to ensure she was breathing; she was, but only just. “What did you all do to her?” I snarled.
“Neural disconnect. We need to keep her asleep to transport her. Don’t want to risk her equipping more powers, do we?” the one in the gunmetal suit answered. All three of them began to fan out around me, their unspoken coordination telling volumes. And the authority he spoke with, it suggested rank.
Zellig’s inner circle. Even a mastermind like himself had a need for additional manpower; who better to reclaim the most dangerous and unstable enemy? I’d heard enough about Salah, Omec, and Tol to have at least a general idea about their arsenal and skill sets. Salah was in the yellow, a demolitionist who specialized in traps. Tol was in the gunmetal and seemed to manipulate his suit on the fly to be either a marksman or brawler depending on the opponent. Omec was a wildcard who made her own biological agents.
“We have been waiting to meet you in person, Titan,” Salah said, “We’ve heard so many things about you. Seen so many things as well.”
“You’re been ripping memories out of people’s heads,” I muttered reproachfully.
“You make it sound so barbaric,” Omec said, clicking her tongue beneath the helmet. “We simply stimulate their hippocampus and allow a machine to interpret the data that comes pouring out. They never feel a thing.”
I reached under Infinite’s arm, throwing her limp form over my shoulder. “If you’ve pulled memories out of people’s heads, you know what I can do.”
“We didn’t need to do that to know what you are capable of. We saw footage of Feast Day,” Tol replied. “We know exactly what you can do. Zellig wasn’t sure if you’d come along.”
“What Tol is trying to say is,” Salah added, “We were handpicked to kill you if you decided to come rescue the damsel.”
“And you didn’t disappoint,” Omec concluded. I got the sense she had a bloodthirsty grin under that helmet.
As they all got situated around me, I pushed the demands of leadership out of my mind. I cast aside my worries for anyone else, for anything else except this moment. I was at a disadvantage having to carry Infinite; I had to keep a hold of her otherwise I couldn’t extend my heat immunity to her. All of them were vulnerable but all three of them were going to work in perfect harmony. They had all been fighting alongside each other since before I was born.
First things first, I needed to get back within Distortions range and let her take Infinite away. The cause could survive without me, but it couldn’t withstand losing her. If these three were willing to chase me after I managed to get Infinite clear, I could turn the fight around on them. Zellig had dared to send his lieutenants after me; how often would we get a chance to take all three of them out in one fell swoop?
Before they could attack, I swiped my hand through the air and pulled those invisible strings; a stream of molten metal filled the space between me and Tol while the other two picked up the pace circling around me.
Behind you, something explosive.
I clenched my first as I tossed Infinite over a shoulder. A wall of molten silicon appeared, turning solid to absorb the explosion. Debris went flying as I turned and started to run.
In the air. Something toxic.
Omec tossed a vial my way that sent black vapor streaking towards me. I waved my hands, pulling more strings, creating a small whirlpool of molten silicon around me. The vapor burned away and I shot a hand, diverting the red-hot slurry. She was quick on her feet to avoid the deluge.
On your left.
I glanced left, seeing Tol reconfiguring his armor, turning one sleeve into a makeshift rifle; a wall of material solidified as he let out the first round.
All around you.
I wanted to return fire as Tol repositioned, but I had to deal with the next miasmatic cloud that Omec had unleashed. More material quickly whipped around me, like some kind of protective bubble as I made sure to keep a hand on Infinite. Tol and Omec took turns to test my defenses, never giving me a chance to attack.
As long as I had to carry her, I couldn’t reply in time.
Above you. On your flanks.
I looked up in response to my danger sense, but I didn’t see a cloud of gas like I expected. I saw a glint of steel as something flew down at me; I diverted my created material upward to intercept the explosives that had been lobbed. As soon as I did, Tol charged forward and Omec threw a vial near my feet.
They had synced up their attacks, preventing me from answering all of them.
I grit my teeth and forced some strings to pull together without my hand, smothering whatever biological weapon she had thrown; if I took a single breath of whatever she had prepared, that was the end for me. I tried to repeat the process and blast him, but Tol closed the distance in a wild leap. His suit was lit up red, a network of crimson making him so much faster than I expected.
Before I could bring the torrent of silicon on his head, his fist drove into my guts. Blood filled my mouth as I felt all my organs compress. Stars appeared in my eyes as I fell and slid backwards, hearing something crunch as Infinite’s limp body added to the impact on my shoulder. Tol gave chase, bearing down on me as I tried to sit up. I raised my free hand and blindly released a torrent of molten silicon; the Trillodan lieutenant quickly pulled back.
The ground fragmented as an explosion made my ears ring. Chunks of shrapnel cut my fingers and pelted my armored coat but the worst part was the concussive wave. My ears rang and my head throbbed as I tried to get back up, haphazardly conjuring a moat in an attempt to buy myself space.
In the air.
This was never going to work with me attempting to moderate and keep everything in perfect control. This trio was too good at coordinating a combined assault to ensure I endured some damage. They knew all they had to do was hit me a few times and I was done for. I had no healing factor or inherent toughness; the only defensive edge I had was my danger sense giving me a little bit of heads up.
To hell with being composed and controlled. Trying to be as efficient as possible wasn’t working; I would be better served playing to my strength. I was one of the Prime Trio and it was time to show why.
I clutched Infinite close and swiped my left hand forward, pulling every small thread in the air. For an instant, stars clouded my vision again, but I had just doused a four-meter ring in liquid metal. I dragged my hand in a circle, whipping the metal in a vortex around me. Flicking my wrist up, the metal formed a full bubble around the two of us. With a grunt, I thrust my palm forward; the protective sphere erupted, firing lances of molten metal out at random.
With my covering fire down, I ran.
Tol and Omec had to duck into buildings to avoid having holes punched through them; I raised my hand over my shoulder and let fire a deluge to set fire to the building Omec had hid inside.
I hadn’t gone but twenty meters before my danger sense chimed in.
From the left.
I didn’t bother waiting to see what was coming for me; I pivoted and let fire a cone of molten material that engulfed a single-story home. Swinging my hand down, I directed the flow to the sides, the slurry greedily devouring the nearby structures as well.
I rounded to see Tol charging, arm raised as the armor began to shift again, changing to another type of firearm. Another weight settled on my shoulders as I yanked a handful of threads, flooding the street with a wave of metal.
Pointing my palm down, I used my power to propel myself upwards and avoid the mine that Salah had set. As I carried Infinite and myself, I started to feel that fatigue setting in; using my power without both hands to help direct the energy was challenging, and extending my resistance to heat had its own tax as well. If I was going to be able to fight, I needed to be unrestrained. If not, I was going to Overexpose before long.
“Distortion, do you still have the tracking gift from Powerhouse?” I asked as I turned on my earpiece.
“Yes,” she replied after a split second.
Finally something according to plan. “I need you to take Infinite from me. She’s unconscious.”
There was a moment before a reply. “What about you?”
“I’m going to stay here.”
Another pause. “Forest is glaring at me. She says that’s a shit idea.”
“Tell her I don’t give a damn! Just take Infinite! I can deal with these three if I can use both my hands!”
“Set her on the ground,” Distortion said, “Make sure she doesn’t move for a second.”
“She’s had one of those things put on her neck,” I said into the earpiece as I watched the air shimmer around her limp form and whisk her back to the ship, “Get it cut out quickly.”
“We-” Distortion was abruptly cut off as the earpiece hissed and sputtered. I turned around, seeing the three lieutenants in a line, staring down the road at me.
“No help, no reinforcements,” Salah said, wagging her finger as she tossed aside some spent device. “We wanted to fight you alone. It won’t do for you to phone for friends.”
“I was half expecting you to die when I hit you,” Tol said, sounding almost gleeful, “I would have been disappointed if you were so fragile.”
I didn’t tell him that my abdomen was still throbbing with pain and that I could still taste blood I’d vomited up. I didn’t bother saying anything at all. I was done entertaining their melodramatic tendencies.
Pulling my fingers into a fist, I pulled a handful of threads to start the reaction. I raised both hands, flooding the street in molten metal, driving all three of them to the side like insects running from a rainstorm. Waving my hands, I diverted the flood to the sides, giving chase, melting down structures and vehicles with reckless abandon.
With my left hand, I started a new reaction, creating a whirlpool beneath my feet, creating a column to elevate me and let me look down on the lieutenants.
Coming up from the right.
Another molten salvo eradicated Omec’s miasmatic assault as I continued creating more and more material, constantly churning every bit of metal into a maelstrom around me. I caught sight of Tol trying to get a good vantage for a shot; all the molten flood diverted and washed an entire cluster of buildings out of existence.
On the left.
Salah had thrown a handful of what looked like small grenades towards me; they were reduced to dust before they could get close enough to detonate.
I dared to smile as I continued to conduct my storm from my makeshift platform, dumping more and more metal into the slurry to expand my domain. Omec and Salah tried to interfere, but all of their weapons and tricks could be burnt away. Any threat they posed could be reduced to ash with the flick of a wrist.
To expand my reach, I moved material from the center of the storm out to the edges, creating a ring that reached a whole city block, leaving a charred trail behind me as I gave chase. One hand kept it churning and one hand kept my column of molten metal intact. I saw Tol run again, buildings being swept out from under him as he still couldn’t get a good shot. Salah and Omec were constantly on the back foot as well, unable to find their mark with an attack.
A sick part of me was glad they dared to stay and fight. I hadn’t been able to unleash my powers like this ever. Even during Feast Day, I had to restrain myself and try to avoid some collateral damage; now I had no such inhibitions. I did not feel pity for the residents of Vuuldar, I felt only burning passion for my crusade.
These three were a threat to the well being of the universe. They were like a virus, and I was a fever here to burn them away.
My smile turned manic as I pushed my ring of desolation out further; even though I couldn’t see the lieutenants, I would just remove any place they had to hide. I added more and more material to my inferno, admiring the charred landscape I left in my wake. I had lost track of how far I had chased these three. The burn scar behind me seemed to stretch on for ages though. It had been so long since I had been able to use my gift like this, to just be the human calamity that people had feared back on Tso’got.
I was Titan. I was the first Adapted on Tso’got. I was the nightmare to villains like the Snatchers. I was the first real threat to the Trillodan in centuries. I would march my dysfunctional family to their door and dethrone those tyrants.
Just watching these three flee was an affirmation to my identity and purpose.
I was on a column of molten metal nearly eight meters high; what kind of explosive could Salah have left in the ground that would threaten me? I glanced down to see it wasn’t anything from the demolitionist; Tol was standing there, taking aim.
“How-” I started to whisper, unable to make sense of what I was seeing.
Tol fired a sliver of metal from his sleeve that ripped into my right leg. Muscle and sinew gave way and my concentration fell apart as pain dragged me out of my adrenaline fueled glee.
With my loss in focus came the loss of control for all the material I had conjured. Tons of molten metal splashed down, flowing aimlessly across the street; I managed to release a jet of molten silicon and slow my fall. My landing was still rough and I put too much weight on my left leg, shattering my ankle on impact.
At the edge of the moat, Tol waited, patiently. As soon as this silicon cooled, he could step forward and claim his prize. He was in no rush.
“Tunneled. Ran ahead of your ring and found a home with a small basement. Blasted deeper into the ground and waited for Salah’s to tell me you had dragged your ring over me. You weren’t paying enough attention. Seems someone got overconfident. You let your ego get the better of you. Rookie mistake.”
I groaned as I tried to get up, but my mobility was shot. My right leg was gushing blood from the trench in my thigh. Even though he hadn’t hit an artery, Tol had done enough damage to let blood loss do its job. He could wait for my residual material to cool enough for his two cohorts to join him without risking me running.
Alongside your spine.
Tol wasn’t just waiting for his comrades, he had tagged me with one of those neural disconnects. He was waiting until I was mechanically sedated before bothering to risk life and limb. I had, at most, a second before it squeezed around my neck and turned me into a ragdoll.
But how was I supposed to burn this away? I created molten silicon from the air and I was near immune to thermal changes; I couldn’t just bore a hole into my neck and rip it out.
However, there was air in my mouth I could manipulate.
I set my jaw as molten metal filled my mouth; I made a small sliver cool into silicate crystal, using it to punch a hole through my esophagus and allow the rest of the molten material outside of my mouth to intercept the cord that would turn me into a mannequin.
Still, I let myself fall backwards and played paralytic. As I hit the ground, blood began filling my mouth as the silicon began to harden around my spine. To make it worse, I couldn’t cauterize the perforation I had made and began to choke on blood. I laid there, trying to abstain from panicking; the threads were fading from my eyes, a telltale sign that I was running out of strength.
I forced myself to stay still, willing Tol to approach and claim his prisoner, praying I had enough left in the tank for one more attack. Metallic footfalls greeted my ears; as fast as I could, I sat up and raised my hand, letting out a cone of molten metal.
Even with all the training he had, Tol was too slow to entirely avoid the scattershot. He let out an animalistic howl as he hit the ground, globs of molten metal boring through his suit and eating into the flesh beneath. Steam rose as he writhed and screamed, the Trillodan reduced from commanding to crippled in a blink.
Omec and Salah had finally made it to us, both of them brandishing a new weapon.
I almost laughed at my danger sense screaming at me that there was a threat incoming; what was I going to do about it? Fight the two of them while bleeding heavily and unable to breathe thanks to the blood in my mouth?
I took solace knowing that I was at least taking one of them with me. Zellig would feel the loss of his lieutenant. I hoped it would haunt him for all his days.
“Kill him!” Tol screamed, still writing in pain, his body still melting slowly.
Omec and Salah advanced towards me, neither of them rushing. They knew how dangerous I was, even in my weakened state. They split up, slowly circling around me, ensuring that I couldn’t hit both with one attack.
I debated laughing at them; their caution was egregiously unnecessary. I wouldn’t be able to fight a foot soldier, let alone one of their most elite. There was no more energy for me to tap into, no more fight in me.
My lips parted and a cascade of blood washed over my lower lip, “Even without me, my family is going to come for you all. We’re not going to stop.”
“We know,” Salah answered, her voice filled with venom.
“We’re counting on it. Once Vaneel has his work done, we can finally kill the rest of you. We’ll be doing the universe a favor.”
I turned my head to Omec, showing off my bloodstained teeth with a smile, “I think the universe would be quick to disagree.”
Salah let out a frustrated click. “You think too small, Titan. You don’t see everything like we do.”
On your sides.
She clicked the top of the vial and rolled it towards me while Salah tossed some kind of explosive my way. I closed my eyes, spending my last second wishing I had listened to Delilah and that I had just stayed with Charlotte.
And then, I was no longer on the battlefield; I was on the ship, in our improvised medical bay.
In front of me, Infinite was on her knees, a nervous smile on her face. “I wasn’t too late,” she said with relief. Behind her, Command was sitting, concentrating, keeping Infinite’s personality from fragmenting. Organelle laid a hand on me, immediately patching the hole in my mouth.
“What in the hell do you have on your spine?” she whispered, horrified.
I spat out a last mouthful of blood. “Worry about it later. What’s going on out there?”
“It’s all gone to shit,” a curt voice answered from the doorway. Forest shook her head, her face betraying no emotion. “Infinite’s eruption killed a dozen different Adapted. With Zellig’s elite causing some serious problems, everyone is falling back to us as quickly as possible.”
It has been a failure on all fronts: Eldritch had been turned against us, Infinite had been defeated, and our fellow Adapted were faltering in the face of the Trillodan military. I had tried to fight against Zellig; the Trillodan commander had proved exactly why his name was so feared. I had thought so highly of myself and my scheming.
In the end it meant nothing. Clairvoyant, our soothsaying Adapted, had tried to warn me about this outcome and I had been too proud to listen.
“Command,” I whispered, “Do you know what Clairvoyant sees next?”
“Nine visions,” he recalled, “Six of them, we stayed to fight and were all slaughtered or taken prisoner. Two of them we try to fly away but are shot down.”
“And the last one?” I dared to ask, growing more and more anxious.
He turned to look at Forest in the doorway before looking back, “Clairvoyant sees us escaping, but…”
“In the vision she saw, I die,” Forest said, finishing Command’s thought.
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