Attention students, guests, and faculty. Please make your way to the auditorium. This is not a drill. I repeat, everyone in the building please head to the auditorium immediately.”
ConfusionFear AlertProtect. I looked around first, but the small classroom they’d assigned to paperwork didn’t have any answer. Around me, other students and their parents all looked about as confused as I did.
“Domenic?” Nanna asked. “What happened?”
I was spared explaining that I had no more idea than she did by the room plunging into darkness. AlarmUncertainDefend. Shouts of surprise, and even a couple people cursing out their cell phones for the lack of signal indicated that it was only light, and we still had sound. “I don’t know, Nanna.”
I felt around in her general direction until I found her shoulder. In some ways, my metal-sight had taught me a few tricks about functioning blind; there was little difference between being blind, and everything being invisible. In addition, I switched over to metal-sight and could see the framework within the building as clear as day; yet another advantage I had over everyone else here.
“It a fucking supervillain, is what it is!” Beatrice’s voice cracked. Whether the accusation in her tone was real or a figment of my imagination, I couldn’t say.
“Don’t be stupid!” a girl shouted from somewhere near the back. “Nobody’s stupid enough to attack a school!”
She was half right; attacking a school, or kids in general, was about the easiest way to guarantee you wouldn’t live to see jail. Especially this school, where the parents could afford to hire mercenaries to track you down. Her mistake was assuming human stupidity had limits; it was that, or she was in denial. Either way, reality wasn’t going to play by her rules this time around.
“Everyone listen up!” A man’s voice rose above the general panicked murmurs. “We need to stay calm and head to the auditorium like the announcement told us. The police are on their way, and that’s where they’ll come looking for us. Everyone form up, hold hands, and we will be fine. Do any of you know where to go?”
This I can do. “I know the way, sir!” The ‘sir’ may have been a little excessive, but my power gave me some ability to see in this mess. I helped Nanna out of her desk, then made contact with Bea’s arm. “I’m starting the chain here, everyone come toward the sound of my voice.”
While we gathered up, I looked around for metal under the influence of my power. Chloe and Cecelia were in the building, though only Cecelia was moving. Either this effect, whatever it was, was strong enough to block Chloe’s glow, or she wasn’t willing to use her powers in her current situation.
I made my way to the door, all the while scanning for anything in easy reach that I could use my power on. One would have assumed the lockers, but our school had to be special and use some kind of high quality plastic rather than metal lockers. I’m sure there were good reasons that had the school board congratulating each other on being so much better than lesser schools, but it was a real inconvenience for me at the moment.
The supports were all hidden inside walls where I couldn’t reach them; not that I was in any hurry to risk demolishing a chunk of my school if I had an alternative. Still hunting for options, I led my daisy-chain of people through the hallway toward the auditorium. If nothing else, I knew there was plenty of metal holding the stage up, and if that collapsed they’d just have to make due with using the gym like a normal school.
Someone screamed behind me. I turned to look, even if I was still blind. More shouts followed, and Nanna tugged my arm back. “Domenic!”
Agony shot through my shoulder and spine, and I crumped to the ground. My cry of pain was… less masculine than I’d have liked. I hope I live, if only so my family doesn’t remember my last moments screaming like a little girl.
Only then did I switch my vision back to normal sight, to find there was once again light in the building. I hope no one puts together that weakness. The hall had light, but the whole thing was in monochrome, ranging from gray to black. In the mist, misshapen humanoids lurked with long, cruel talons extending from deformed caricatures of hands. Like the black and white scene before us, they belonged in a horror movie.
If one of those things was what got me, I won’t survive without a healer.
RageOpportunity! One such monster rolled past me, its skull broken open to reveal some tar-like substance rather than a brain. ImpatientDisgust. “Get up!” Lightning crackled in Cecelia’s voice.
Reflex led me to obey her before I considered the consequences. Contrary to all expectations, I had no trouble standing, and in fact I hurt more from where I hit the ground than where the claw got me. Cecelia herself wore just enough metal to cover her face and have thin gloves and boots which were decorative enough to be mistaken for Gadgets. “Wh- what happened?”
“They’re some kind of illusion!” Cecelia shouted for the whole group to hear. “They feel real, but they can’t do anything permanent! Stick together, keep moving, I’ll cover your backsides!”
I wanted to argue that I could stay and fight, but with all these witnesses I couldn’t find a plausible excuse. Instead I extended what boost I could to Cecelia’s cobbled together costume, which would help keep her powers topped off. Chloe wasn’t far off, though she seemed occupied as well. ShockPainConfusion.
“Okay. Thanks, uh, Spark.” I got up and scrambled for where Bea and Nanna were, then led them as fast as I could for the auditorium, as instructed by the message which still rang through the halls. I had to assume it was a recording. Now I had another reason; the sooner I got them to safety, the sooner I could join the girls in fighting this living nightmare.
Cecelia moved behind us, to take on another monster. It died with as much fanfare as mine had, but managed to claw Cecelia in the stomach as it went down. SurprisePainHate.
One of the creatures dived out of the shadows at a couple guys who had moved past me in the confusion. The one in front took a raking attack that caught his face and throat. The results were much as when it happened to me; he screamed like he’d been ripped in half while falling backward.
Moments later, he felt at his face to discover there were, indeed, no wounds. Oh, good, at least I won’t be the only person who looked like a total loser here.
His buddy hauled off and sucker punched the attacker, which sent it stumbling back, only to follow up by kicking it in the ribs. The guy knew how to fight, and he knew how to fight dirty.
Its mouth opened as if to scream, though no sound came out. It seemed this horror movie was a silent picture. Somehow, that served to make it even more unnerving.
Another man came from the side holding a fire extinguisher, and brought it down on the monster’s head. It hit the ground, dissolving into smoke which rejoined the mist. This is like Myriad’s power. Did she Surge?
The fighter turned to face the rest of us, a manic smile on his face that reminded me a little of Cecelia. Now I recognized him as one of the jocks on the football team, Jimmy-something. He was my age, though a bit shorter and a whole lot more muscled. “And that’s how it’s done!”
The adult with the extinguisher stepped forward. He had a resemblance to Jimmy that made me immediately assume either father or uncle. “We know they can be beat!” He was also the same voice who took charge when things went dark. “Men, grab anything that looks like it can be a weapon, and take point to protect the girls and the elderly. Let the superhero protect our back!”
He leaned over to help pull Kenny, the boy who’d been attacked, to his feet, then shoved the extinguisher into his hands.
I spotted a nearby supply closet, then grabbed the handle. It was locked, but I carried enough metal on me to forge a key. The door popped open for me to survey the loot, zombie-survival style.
Most of it was useless, unless we hoped the monsters could get high on markers and paint. The closest thing to payday was a mop and broom, and boxes staples which I converted to a couple pounds more metal for combat use. I still didn’t have enough material to make a mask, let alone a full costume, but every little bit helped.
I ran for the front line, which had moved forward while I was looting.
“You think you can fight these things?” Jimmy didn’t look or sound impressed by my approach. I let him take the mop, but kept the broom for myself. A fact which he didn’t seem too pleased with, no doubt thinking one of the jocks could make better use of it than the skinny nerd.
I pushed my broom against the ground, then stomped it hard, breaking the brush off and leaving me only with a jagged stick at the end. “Sure, let’s call it a fight.”
I didn’t give him a chance to argue, instead pushing past to lead the charge into the fog. Knowing these things couldn’t do real damage was a boost of confidence, and as we moved forward they began to come out of the fog.
They’re not real, they’re illusions. It’s just like a realistic video game. That mantra in my head, I engaged the first one I found by swinging the handle of my stick into the creature’s jaw. It rocked back, and another bolted for the opening I left in my guard. Fuck this is going to hurt.
Jimmy’s stick slammed down on that one’s skull, and he followed up by kicking it in the jaw.
I spun my weapon around and jabbed the pointy end into my monster’s mouth. I didn’t feel the pop-crunch of bone as I had in my fight with Salamander; these creatures’ insides were closer to rubber than living creature. It became smoke, which freed my spear from its skull. “Thanks.”
“Introduce me to whoever taught you to fight like that, and we’re even.”
I almost smiled at the image of Jimmy having a ‘practice match’ with Cecelia. These things were nothing compared to fighting her. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Ahead of us, a trio of guys engaged another monster. One braved a slash to the arm, and somehow had presence of mind to catch the thing’s claw in spite of the pain. Another caught the other arm and held it while Kenny hammered the thing in the face with the extinguisher until his weapon went through mist when the monster broke down.
Another jumped through the mist and landed atop Kenny, who screamed as he went down again. His partners struggled to pull it off, but one of them was caught by a third monster which came out of the mist. Jimmy rushed in alongside another guy.
I almost went to help, but spotted yet another as it materialized near the ceiling and dropped behind him. I jabbed the spear, which caught its shoulder. It spun too fast for me to avoid the clawed backhand to my face.
Pain lanced through my skull, and I swear for a moment everything tasted like the number twelve. I stumbled back, saved from falling only by the wall behind me.
Screams echoed from the girls- some in surprise, and others in pain. FrustrationRage. We’re getting overwhelmed. I fashioned what little metal I had into a long, slender blade which severed my monster’s arm. That seemed to be enough to end it, but there were dozens more coming. Domenic’s not going to be enough, we need Ballast.
I ran into one of the side halls, away from the group. Now that I was alone, I could slice my way through the monsters without much trouble with a blade that was impossible by the standard laws of physics.
I made my way to the shop class rather than the auditorium. Here was plenty of metal for me to work with, and within minutes I had a fully functional outfit at the cost of a couple table saws, as well as the tables. I hadn’t worked with much tungsten steel before, but it seemed stronger than most of the scrap metal I was accustomed to. I hope they don’t make me pay for this stuff.
Monsters rushed me, and now I could ignore them as they destroyed themselves against my bladed armor. Where they clawed they lost fingers, and where they grappled they were reduced to smoke.
With a casual flick, blades so thin they could only be seen by the flicker of light lashed out and severed their limbs. PainTired. The same could not be said for the girls; I ran toward the source of screams.
A couple dozen people were in the hall near the auditorium. I could see Cecelia and Chloe near the front, trying to force back what appeared to be dozens of the monsters. Is that the nature of this power? The longer we stay, the more creatures spawn?
The direction I approached from had a pair I recognized as the school’s Imbued security. Neither wore costumes, and I only knew them as officers Blake and Erikson. A gunshot rang out, and took with it one of the monsters. Fuck. Who brought a gun? They must be getting desperate if they’ve resorted to firearms.
I lashed out, carving through a dozen monsters, and followed with a backslash to take down those that rushed to fill the gaps.
I ran toward the guards, and those men who had cobbled together a defensive line. “Sorry, I got here as soon as I could.” As good an excuse as any. “What’s the intel?”
“It’s both a Summoner and Infiltrator power. More the latter than former.” Officer Blake said. “Also a powerful anti-Esper ability. A little like your team has, in fact.”
What. I looked back at Cecelia, who only just dodged another attack. She’s fighting without her Fate-sense, no wonder she’s taken so many hits. “Hey, if you have something to say, then come out and say it.”
Blake took a step forward. “I’m not saying anything, yet, but I can’t help but notice your weapon’s having a lot more impact on these things than it should.”
“They’re no tougher than a normal person.” I shifted my metal into a long, thin blade, then shoved it into one of the lockers. “The difference is, I try not to kill normal people.”
I shifted the other end to wedge it into the locker on the other side. More monsters came, but now they had a chest-high razor thin blade to pass through before reaching us. I added dozens of other spikes as well, more as a visual warning to others coming this way than expecting it to be effective. The monsters ran mindlessly to their deaths against my improvised barbed wire.
PainWeakness. Chloe screamed from the other side of the hall. I pushed past the guards, no longer interested in arguing with them. The civilians cleared the way, and I took advantage of the opening to throw a spear at one of the monsters.
It fell back, but more than its death, Cecelia now had access to a real weapon. She grabbed the spear and used it to shred a few others.
I took point, surprised that I had to when my partners were the much more powerful Imbued. “How are you holding up?”
Chloe fell back, giving room for me to kill a few others. “I… they…” She landed behind me, panting. “They ignore my forcefield…”
Which explains how these things can hurt the girls. “Not my metal, though.” I glanced at Cecelia and remembered all the times she explained my power’s ability to hide from her Fate-lines. “The guards said this power screws with Espers, too.”
“I call it the Killing Field.” A man’s voice echoed through the crowd of monsters. He stepped out of the mists. He was about as tall as I was, though his boots might have had platforms. The black casual suit was open, revealing a gray vest below. His face was a skull, though it was clearly a Halloween mask. The black glasses, top hat, and cane with a small skull completed the ensemble.
I shifted my metal around me to prepare for an offense against an Imbued rather than these monsters. “Cheap illusions and an even cheaper costume.” I shifted my blade as well, into something closer to a scythe; one symbol of death against another seemed appropriate. “Both of which I happen to counter. You’ve lost. Now surrender, or else.”
He opened his arms out, showing more of the vest, and the various voodoo trinkets which dangled from it. “Illusion, perhaps, but I assure you it’s anything but cheap,” he spat the word. “You couldn’t comprehend what I lost to…” He turned his head, as if looking for something behind him. “No, it’s not time. What are you going to do? Kill me? Do you think you can?”
With a casual gesture, my scythe severed a few more creatures. They seemed to have gone passive now that their boss had arrived, anyway. “You have illusions, I have hard steel,” I clenched my weapon so hard my arm trembled. “You assaulted a school. No one will care when I kill you.”
“I have so much more than illusion.” The smoke around us kicked up into a windless storm. From every hidden corner, emaciated hairless rats and bats swarmed out.
HorrorPainEscape! I heard the crunch of stone, and spun to see a hole in the wall with chunks of concrete falling out. Dozens of bats flew into the hole.
The illusory animals were too numerous to count, and swarmed over all the students. They seemed especially interested in targeting Cecelia, who cooked them as they hit her like a bug zapper. Still, each wave lived long enough to rend her with their claws, and there were so many thousands more waiting for their turn.
She’ll run out of power before he does.
Another shudder rocked the building amidst cries of pain through my mind. In her own panic, Chloe seemed to be trying to find a way out of the building in the most direct way possible.
“How many times can a mind die before the body follows?” Behind me, the psycho continued to ramble. How I could hear him over the screaming was a mystery in its own right, but it was as clear as if he was whispering in my ear. “How much pain can a person suffer before giving into the mercy of death?” He started to laugh. “This is the power of the Killing Field!”
I trembled. Even if I had the mass needed to flood the hallway with metal to kill the rodents, I couldn’t do it without risking the lives of all the people he was attacking. People which included Beatrice and Nanna.
That leaves the one option. I turned to face the madman even as my metal transformed itself into the naginata which I was coming to think of as my signature weapon. I was done asking him to surrender. If I have to kill to save my family, then so fucking be it.
I thrust forward, and in an eyeblink the illusions were gone. What remained was the face of Beatrice, her eyes staring into mine. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but only blood came out.
Around us, the mad laughter faded into nothing.