I was gasping for breath by the time I’d started down the ramp to where the fight was occurring. Based on the emotions from Chloe and Cecelia, the fight was in full pitch but they were holding their own. The horror and sounds of gunfire suggested things weren’t going as well as we’d hoped, but at least my team wasn’t worried aside the brief burst of pain from Chloe early on.
Figuring I had time, I exploited the stealth offered by my power to take in the scene from near the top of the ramp. Near as I could tell, the side with the crossbows was mopping up their gun-toting enemies with little difficulty. Having spent the last month memorizing every bit of information on Heritage I could get my hands on, I recognized Parapet using her shield to cover to her mundane allies. Seeing as I had no hope of getting through her power, I kept looking.
A man in a torn black costume body suit limped toward Parapet, heedless of the crossbow bolts fired at him. His costume and the broken wood plank he seemed to be using as a crutch didn’t share his invulnerability, and had several bolts caught in them. I decided he was more or less a non-issue for now, given his injury and apparent lack of range or movement powers. Worst case scenario, we could avoid him by walking fast.
Meanwhile, Cecelia was jumping around the battlefield with every bit of her agility as someone in a dark blue costume wielding a similar colored mithril sword appeared and disappeared behind her. Of all of us, Cecelia was best equipped to deal with a teleporter, so again I looked for a different target.
Meanwhile, Chloe faced off against a man who looked like a living stone statue, as opposed to my living steel look. I decided if nothing else, I might take Chloe’s place in that fight so she could hit another target. I didn’t have have the strength to take down Parapet’s shield, but she might.
Despite being several feet apart, the man reached out and grabbed at Chloe. Green light swirled around them both, and sudden gust of wind hit her from behind and buffeted her hair around her. ConfusionShockPain.
She tumbled forward, pulled toward the stone man along with the dust and debris littering the floor. Even after the gale force dissipated, she didn’t stand, and I could sense nothing from her through our bond.
I didn’t stop to think, instead dropping the eight or so feet from the ramp to the floor below. My metal absorbed much of impact, as if I was in a cocoon of water rather than a solid steel shell. A cocoon of water which announced its arrival as a thousand sledge hammers hitting the concrete at once. Several people turned and shot at me, which confirmed six inches of solid steel was enough to shrug off bullets and crossbows without me so much as feeling it.
PanicFocusProtect. Cecelia, too, had responded to Chloe’s plight, and stopped in her tracks. The woman in the blue outfit appeared out of nowhere, and this time her sword didn’t miss.
The woman shrieked in agony the likes of which I’d never heard before, and collapsed in a shower of orange lightning. Later I’d feel guilty for not worrying that Cecelia might have killed herf, but for now I thought only of Chloe.
Even impaled and further away than I was, Cecelia reached Chloe before me. WorryUncertaintyPanic. Heedless of the battle, or her own injury, she had already started to remove Chloe’s decorative armor and mask. “He collapsed her lungs.” A pulse of lightning shot from her hands into Chloe’s chest, and then she pressed her lips to Chloe’s and began some version of CPR. I felt helpless, watching Cecelia do what I could not. TrustDefendDanger.
Right, the fight’s not over, and Cecelia has more important things to worry about. My own lungs screaming for fresh air, I took a combat stance. Once again, I invoked the winglike construct, now more like a thousand deadly blades to ward off anyone stupid enough to get close. In my hands, I shaped a pair of slender swords, each seven feet long. Again, I observed rather than joining the fight.
The man who may have killed Chloe was now engaged against Salamander, whom I hadn’t seen from my earlier perch. The pair could not have been more different in combat styles. Salamander went on the offensive, with all the speed and ferocity of a wild animal, while his opponent stayed defensive, using his speed to evade and misdirect much like a bull fighter. Even visually, the green aura contrasted against red scales. Neither seemed able to get an upper hand in the conflict, and I was happy to let them fight.
The guy in black had just managed to limp toward Parapet and her soldiers, who had either run out of ammo or decided not to waste it on someone immune to the weapons. Parapet’s shield, normally visible only when blocking attacks, revealed itself in full as the other villain made contact. His costume burned away for the experience, revealing a man who was almost albino white, save for the mop of dark hair on his head. Not only had his clothes disintegrated, so had the forcefield.
A pair of unseen gunmen opened fire on the Heritage villain. One of them had the assault rifle, and sprayed her team with bullets. Though they wore body armor, it wasn’t up to the task of stopping military firearms. Parapet hit the ground, the contents of her skull spilled out around her. I almost threw up; growing up in the ghetto had taught me how cheap life could be, but knowing did nothing to prepare me for seeing it with my own eyes.
PainAwareness ReliefJoy. The return of Chloe’s emotions to my mind was joined by painful coughs on her part.
I kept my eyes on the battlefield; no sense in making a stupid mistake which might cost my love her life now that she was in the clear. “We need to get out of here while we have a chance.”
RejectionAnger. “No.” HorrorDisgust. Chloe had to struggle even to rasp the word. ResponsibilityDetermination. “We stop the killing.”
Cecelia, too, didn’t want to leave, though the hate and cruelty radiating off her suggested that stopping the killing was the furthest thing from her mind. Dammit, looks we’re staying. Chloe’s still more or less invulnerable, save for the air controller and Salamander, who are fighting each other. “Spark, stay with Plasma. Stop the guns.” The pair of them should have no problem with the mundanes, or the injured guy whose power let him break Parapet’s shield.
I moved toward the remaining pair of Imbued, intent on ending their fight by any means necessary. Salamander was as monstrous in behavior as appearance, and wanted for over a dozen murders. As much blood as he was covered in now, it looked like he added another body in this fight.
Then there was statue-man he was fighting, who would have killed Chloe, had Cecelia not been there. Needless to say, I wasn’t fond of him, either.
I pushed metal into my swords, extending their length even as I brought both inward like a pair of scissors, with both targets in the middle. Some part of me recognized that I was about to kill two people. The rest was confident that no jury in America would convict me.
Both weapons hit home, though the statue man had jumped into the air, which saved him a blade in the back at the cost of hitting his calf muscle in a spray of green light and red blood. Imbalanced by the weapon, he spun sideways, caught in a cyclone of his own power which sent him tumbling across the empty lot. His injury didn’t look fatal, but I expected it to keep him down for a while.
Salamander took a dead center blow to the back, which knocked him forward even as blood gushed from the wound. He landed on his knees and all four hands, then turned to face me. With a bestial roar and speed I wouldn’t have expected from any human, let alone one with half his back flayed off, he rushed toward me.
I drew in my metal, replacing unwieldy giant swords with standard spikes and blades to keep him back. He was a physical superhuman, but in the same sense as Cecelia rather than Chloe. Remembering my practice spars with Cecelia, I didn’t bother to fight on the defensive, instead allowing him to slash into my metal with one of his claws. To my surprise, his claws had strength enough to sink into the metal, but only by an inch or so. As armored as I was, I was invulnerable to his attacks.
I took a swing with my sword, which he had no trouble avoiding. Speed to match Cecelia, but a lot more training. Makes sense, he’s been with Heritage for the better part of a decade, he should know how to fight. One of his feet collided with my head hard enough that I felt the blow through the armor. I stumbled back, more dazed than hurt.
I was confident I got the better of the bastard. I had a mild headache, while he was coated in his own blood from numerous wounds. Three of his claws and one foot had been shredded by the micro-razors I’d perfected with Cecelia’s help.
“Dun care what the boss says.” Salamander took a step back, with newfound wariness. “I will kill your bitches in front of you for this, boy.”
Oh, right, he was there when I had that run-in with Quash. Wonder what else he knows about me. I forced a laugh, hoping the hollow and eerie acoustics of my armor disguised my fear knowing his boss knew where my family slept. “You’re welcome to try, but I’d recommend you stay here with me. The worst I’m gonna do is kill you.”
Salamander’s own laugh, if the guttural pseudo-growl could be called laughter, echoed over the other noises of the warehouse. “Big words, but you don’t have what it takes to kill anyone.” He lifted his hand, showing that despite still being covered in shredded scraps of flesh, there was a whole and functional hand beneath. “And if you ain’t got the guts to kill, you can’t take me.”
Well, that’s lovely. It takes Cecelia minutes to heal that kind of damage, and he does it in seconds. With regen at that level, I believed his claim that only a killing blow would be enough to stop him. He darted to my left, while I borrowed the stone man’s tactic of treating this like a bull fight. As long as I kept my eyes on him, I could-
Another blow to the side of my head rocked me back, and the next three only made it worse. I ducked down into my armor, folding more mass into protecting my head at the expense of my spikes and more artistic design choices. Through the armor, it only hurt like a punch through boxing gloves, but if I lost focus on my armor I would die.
“See, just like I said, you ain’t got what it takes, boy.” Salamander had backed off, out of what I could consider easy range as his body patched itself back together. He pulled a foot long strip of skin and flesh off his arm and tossed it on the floor.
He’s right, I’ll lose this fight if it keeps going like this. I allowed myself a glance at Chloe and Cecelia, who were now running literal circles around the naked guy with the broken foot. I couldn’t trust them to fight Salamander, given the contact poison he was so well known for. Chances were good their powers would protect them, but I was the only one with a guaranteed defense.
Salamander started to move again, circling me in hopes of finding another moment of vulnerability. My armor was thick enough around my head now, but I had to sacrifice mass in other areas, and all he needed to win was to get a single scratch through the metal.
I’m allowing him to set the terms of the engagement. If this continues, I will die. I’ll die, and I’ll never get to kiss Chloe, or see Nanna, or even put up with Beatrice. If I can’t help my family, Nanna will lose her home. God, she can’t afford the funeral costs, either. I can’t allow that to happen.
Salamander moved, again too fast for me to follow. I didn’t try, I just fell to my knees while my armor reworked itself at the expense of all the spare energy I’d carried from Cecelia’s power. Almost all the mass released from armor form into a three dimensional snowflake pattern of bladed death. Some spikes broke, some bent, and Salamander stopped within inches of ripping me in half, a mangled mess.
I stepped back, drawing all my metal in as Salamander collapsed in a heap on the ground. Despite the spikes which had pierced his skull, chest and stomach, his chest moved. Somehow, he was still breathing. I formed some metal into a sword. I could end him now, even his power shouldn’t be enough to recover from decapitation.
I watched as the flesh and bone from one of the holes in his skull pushed outward, leaving chunks dangling over now-healthy flesh. He struggled to his feet as a spare eye fell off his cheek to join the rest of the viscera on the floor. “See, I knew you c-urk-”
Several things happened at once. First, I felt a pain in my chest as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. On reflex, I held my breath. Second, a popping sensation in my ears deafened me. Third, I was blinded by what seemed like gallons of blood which coated my armor. Last, I almost fell over thanks to the sudden change in air pressure, but the weight of my armor kept me standing.
In the seconds it took for me to recover, I’d used my armor to clear the blood so that I could see. Several meters away the statue guy stood, his hand still stretched out toward me. Between us lay a strip of gore with Salamander’s body strewn out in the middle.
He took a step back, unsteady on his wounded leg. The swirling aura of green seemed to be in part responsible for holding him up. “You survived?”
“Breathing’s overrated.” I adjusted my armor to make it more resistant to sudden depressurization. The salty stench of my sweat was better than the Salamander’s metallic blood, at any rate.
“Is that so?” The man punched toward me, but his power meant nothing against the weight of two metric tonnes of steel. The spatter of Salamander gore and other garbage, however, did serve to blind me for a moment.
I pushed that out from my vision, only to catch a skull sized chunk of concrete in the face. It shattered against my metal with little more than minor ringing sound and a shimmer of green pixie dust.
I reshaped my sword into the impossibly long blade I could trust to hit him. “Is that all your tricks? Hot air and pebbles? If so, you should just surrender, because you are now second on my list of least favorite living people.” I pointed my blade at the shattered remains of Salamander. “He was third.”
My opponent took a different stance, this time with both hands forward. Around him, dust began to swirl like a miniature tornado, gathering chunks of debris none of which seemed the least bit threatening. His aura went from being a shimmer to a green spotlight of energy. Somehow, chunks of the concrete floor around him cracked and broke off to join the storm. Those, I marked down as a potential danger if I got too close. “I’m afraid I have to ask. Who’s first on the list?”
Before I had a chance to answer, a steel spear punched out of the man’s stomach. Whatever his outward appearance, his innards looked much the same as every other corpse created in this battle. With a casual gesture, both spear and the man impaled on it were cast aside, leaving me face to face with a knight that looked much like myself.
“Why, sir.” The echo of bootsteps joined the voice. A white cowl trimmed with gold came into view ascending the ramp to the floor below, along with the yellow light of power. The faux-uniform costume with a symbol of the confederate flag was one I’d never forget. I called to my metal, willing what little was left of Cecelia’s charge for the next fight. “Ah do believe the boy is referring to me.”