Revenant stood in frozen silence, every bit the symbol of death of his namesake.
“Fucking me running.” Through my ‘magical’ armor, I felt Laura squeeze tighter around me. “I didn’t think she’d kill him.”
We’re all capable of murder, it’s not a question of if, but how far you need to be pushed. I had no words to offer to Laura. I was more worried about Zach and Cassandra right now.
“Valkyrie, land.” The summon took us to the ground.
Cassandra fell from Revenant’s grasp, with his fingers still frozen to her. With a calm that bordered on the serene, she peeled the digits from her face. “He didn’t give me a choice.” Her voice carried no sign of regret or fear, nor did her face. Though her face was still covered with chunks of Revenant’s hands.
My stomach lurched. Are… are they moving? No, that’s not Revenant, that’s Cassandra. A fractured web of cracked ice extended outward from her eyes and the corners of her mouth, spreading backward toward her ears until hidden by her hair. The fragments were pulling themselves back together, where necessary new ice was growing to replace missing mass. A realization which did little to settle my stomach.
Zach leaned unsteadily on Flux’s shoulder. “Can he-?”
“Recover from a hit like that?” Flux asked. “Dunno. Maybe?”
Cassandra backhanded the ice sculpture that was a man. The silence shattered by echoes of splintered concrete as Revenants body split apart by the forces of gravity and Cassie’s blow.
“We leave nothing to chance.” She stopped for a moment, then looked at us. “Logically, either he was already dead, in which case it doesn’t matter what we do. Or he is still alive, and perhaps this will delay his recovery by a few more moments.”
“She’s right.” Laura sounded like she’d have rather chewed glass than said those words. “Bail out first, aftermath second. Anima, can you get us out of here?”
Dammit. “One or two, maybe, but not the whole group.” Judging from Zach’s appearance, I wouldn’t be able to trust Wyvern to transport him. I would have to ride it, which put Laura and Zach on Valkyrie, but that left Cassandra and Flux here, and those were the ones who’d be worst off if the cops showed. “If Flux can carry-”
Snap! A cloud of mist rose up from where Revenant lay as a pile of shattered ice, creating a cloud of ice I couldn’t see through. “Okay, I gotta hand it to you. That was one hell of a trump card, chicky.”
His head poked from the mist, now his face was covered with chitinous bronze plates that looked like a combination of a metal veil and insect’s mouthparts. Mist bellowed from the opening, far more than his lungs could have had capacity for.
“Jesus fuck, he’s up already!?” Laura took a couple steps away from me, toward Zach. She kept her body, and her gun, trained on Revenant.
Revenant towered above us, standing well over eight feet tall. His body had an inhuman build and musculature, not obscene like a body builder or some Altereds, but lined with dense, sleek musculature. It reminded me of nothing so much as when I was a child and Dad took me to see the tigers at the zoo. I got to see them up close, through a glass wall. Revenant’s frame now looked like that, an alternate evolution of human where we came from tigers instead of chimps.
“Is that a Desert Eagle? Nice.” Revenant flexed his talon-like fingers. “That can’t be legal around here, can it? But we’re past the point where that’s gonna slow me down. Say, freakin’ shot in the dark, but I don’t suppose you’re free for a bit of an after-party date?”
What. No, seriously. What the actual fuck?
“Hey, buddy,” the ground rumbled around us like an earthquake given a voice. “The lady is with me.”
“And even if I wasn’t, you tried to murder my little brother! I’ll go on a date with you after you shove a fist full of C4 up your ass and fuck a light socket!”
He brought up his hands, as if warding off a blow. “Hey, it’s cool, I knew it was a long shot. But, leggy babe with tats and a gun? What kinda red-blooded American could let that opportunity go and still call himself a man?”
All the other weirdness aside, how the hell can he tell Laura has tattoos through the thick winter coat she’s wearing?
“But just so it’s clear,” Revenant continued. “If I wanted to kill him, he’d be dead. I was bustin’ my hump to keep him alive. Speakin’ of…”
He moved faster than I could have imagined someone his size moving, rushing straight for Cassie.
She brought her arms up to block him, if far too slow to stop him, but he wasn’t going after her. At the last moment, he lept over her head, landed hard inches away from Laura and smiled while she pulled the trigger in his face. Gunsmoke joined the white cloud which surrounded him.
“Laura!” Zach tried to rush for her, but he couldn’t have made it even if he was at full strength.
“Psych!” At the last moment, he twisted away from her, putting him on a direct course for me.
I didn’t have time to think, let alone act, but my Valkyrie was there between us with her red cloak flapping in the nonexistent wind. Her shield held one of Revenant’s hands back, while the spear had pierced through the palm of the other. She stood fast against him, her boots digging into the frozen ground, while he looked more surprised than like he was struggling to overcome her.
“Run, My Queen, I shall protect you.” It was a wonderful sentiment, ruined by the fact that this was a construct programmed to serve me by my power, and the fact that it was losing power faster than I could sustain it. In fact, it was losing power faster than it should have been under the circumstances. Almost like it’s about to use- “Holy Lance.”
White fire erupted around the pair, as my power attempted to emulate my fifteen year old self’s concept of divine magic. Whatever the true nature of the energy, it set the air ablaze and burned the ground at my feet. I stumbled backward, out of the flames that could do no harm to me.
It can cast its spells without my explicit command? How? I relied on Valkyrie specifically because it had no ‘instinct’ of its own, acting solely on my conscious command, yet here it was fighting as best it could without my input. It’s supposed to be one of the safe ones!
“Ssss…” Revenant stumbled back, the skin and much of the flesh missing from his front. Skin and fat dripped down, releasing steam where they hit the ground. He smelled enough like bacon that I would no longer be able to eat it. “Shit, that actually hu-urk!”
Valkyrie’s lance pierced his throat. “You are unworthy to speak to the Goddess! Now cease your prattling and succumb to death!” She twisted the spear, which would have snapped his spine if it wasn’t already severed by the spear. With more strength than even her large frame suggested possible, she brought the spear point down into the ground, leaving Revenant pinned into the dirt.
Oh, god. I lost control again! I almost unsummoned Valkyrie, for fear it would go berserk and keep killing now that it had tasted blood. Revenant didn’t give me a chance.
He kicked Valkyrie so hard that for a moment I saw nothing but light, felt nothing but pain, and heard nothing but screams. Not my scream.
“Now, THAT is what I’m talking about!” Revenant stood, holding Laura. His claws were just big enough to get around her rather slender waist, and he held her the way a child might a doll. “I was starting to fear everything they said about you was bullshit!”
The fog started lifting from my mind. I felt summons wounded before, but never before was one outright destroyed. The pain was intense, but behind that was exhaustion, the loss of the pool of energy that my power came from. Is my power tied to my life force? It wasn’t an uncommon trait, but until today I hadn’t had a reason to give it much thought. Nobody dared to find out, before.
“Is that enough to satisfy you?” Flux asked. Zach was talking to him, perhaps relaying the message for Flux to give Revenant. “You got to fight Anima. Now you know what it’s like. You can go home and throw yourself a party.”
“No! It’s not enough!” He stared down at me behind four catlike pupils, two for each eye, somehow even creepier than it sounds. “I think everyone really is wrong about you. I think you’re far stronger than any of them realize, and I’m not done until I think you’ve show me just how powerful you really are!”
My full power is certain death. “I can’t. You won’t survive.”
He tilted his head back, his laughter bellowing in the empty streets as loud as the gun Laura used. “I’ve had my neck broken, my skull smashed, been frozen to ice, smashed to pieces, and half decapitated in the last ten minutes! Do you honestly still believe that it’s my death you have to worry about?”
I had to admit, that was a hard argument to beat, but he didn’t comprehend my power. “You don’t understand how my power works! It-”
“GYAAAH!!!” Laura screamed like an animal, kicking and hitting wherever she could. She fought, bit down on his hand, but it was like watching a mouse struggle in an eagle’s talon.
“Then I die!” Revenant rose up, puffing his chest out in a pose that would have been heroic on someone else. “That is a risk I’m willing to take. I can not get this close to the strongest combat power on the continent, perhaps even the planet, and walk away empty handed! I would rather die a warrior than live a coward” He stopped, looking at Laura who now lay limp in his hand. “If this girl has to be sacrificed so I get the ultimate challenge, then so be it. She will die.”
“But… I can’t…” I sobbed, pathetic as it was, with everyone here watching. “I… I can’t… I’m not…”
“You’ve never killed before.” For a moment, I thought Flux was talking to me. I almost blurted out that he was wrong. “You may be a psycho, but you have an honor code. Are you prepared to throw that away, and on a civilian?”
“Hmmph, ain’t me that’ll do the killing.” What? Revenant made a sweeping gesture, with the hand holding Laura. “It could be the Ice Queen or Mister Invisible, but my money’s on Little Brother. He smells like an animal about to throw itself into the jaws of a wolf on the prayer that it’ll choke to death swallowing.”
Oh no, he wouldn’t. I looked at Zach, who shook with what I was sure wasn’t the cold. He would. I knew Zach would resort to a Surge if he had to, he was that short sighted, and I believed Revenant would let him. I, too, started to tremble.
“If I can’t have a battle to the death with the legendary Anima, I’ll settle for someone who Surged next to her.” He turned his head away from me, locking them onto Zach. “And next to me, for that matter. I don’t know what crazy power you’ll get, but it’s certain to be spectacular, perhaps even stronger than mine.” Now he turned his attention back to me. His face was so inhuman, but somehow he made the look on his face significant. “With all that it means.”
He was right, in that Zach would probably Surge if Glen or Cassie didn’t beat him to it. No matter which of them took the plunge, Laura was at risk of friendly fire from an Imbued with a new powerset that they didn’t fully comprehend. The guilt of killing a loved one while trying to save her was exactly the sort of cruel sadism powers could and would inflict on their wielders. Even Cassandra’s power could easily decide take any hope she had of Zach loving her again by killing his sister.
Even the guilt for those of us who did nothing, only to wonder if things would have been different if we’d acted instead of hiding, was its own twisted punishment. The guilt I lived with because I failed to stop Kitten when I had the chance.
Is that guilt worse than taking a life, willfully and in full awareness? I couldn’t live with myself if I allowed Laura to die, but I didn’t know if I could live with what I’d have to do in order to save her.
I’m sorry, I don’t know if I can.
“Zach says he has a plan.” Glen’s rumble was soft in my ear, silent to all but me. “He needs you to buy time.”
Buy time? I wanted to, but I didn’t know what I could possibly do, or what anyone else could do with the time. The only person I could think of that might have a chance of slowing Revenant down was Sympathy. Her power might have been capable of defeating his, but I wasn’t ready to bet Laura’s life on it. Besides, contacting her was its own nightmare and then the time it would take her to arrive.
“How?” I tried to speak using nothing but the back of my throat.
“He needs you to hit Revenant with everything you got. Don’t hold back, but don’t use Sarcophagus. Whatever that means.”
“But I…” I looked over at him, as he lay there half limp in Flux’s arms. He gave me a weak thumb’s up.
“Plotting between yourselves? Cute.” Revenant’s ears moved independent from one another, one pointed back toward Zach while the other pointed toward me. “By all means, go ahead and plot, especially if the plan is to give me everything I want.”
“He knows what my power is…” More than anyone other than myself, Muwth, and perhaps Sympathy and Sapphire. “He can’t ask me to do this.”
“He says he’s not asking,” Glen said after a moment. “He’s begging you to trust him.”
Trust. I gave him one last look, before closing my eyes. Tears ran down my cheeks. “How am I supposed to trust someone who’s asking me to murder a man?”
“If that’s not enough, then I am begging you, for Laura’s sake. I’m counting on you to get her out alive. You’re the only ones who can.”
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll sweeten the pot.” Revenant kneeled, then lay Laura down on the charcoaled ground that marked Valkyrie’s full power.
“Wouldn’t want her to have a point blank seat to whatever you’ve got that you think is good enough to trump everything I’ve beaten tonight.” He stepped back away from her, then sidestepped away from her until he’d circled all the way around me. “But just so it’s clear, now that I’ve got you, I’m not letting you go.”
Trust. I closed my eyes. “If you’re lying, if this is a ploy to push me to kill him, I will never forgive you.” I took the final breath, then raised my voice to announce a summon that would not allow me to invoke it in silence. One that demanded all know what it was intended for.
“Dogs of war! Know the thrill of battle! Bring me the heart of my enemy! Wild! Hunt!”
They began laughing before their bodies had fully materialized; I summoned them with the intent to kill in my mind. For the first time, they were unleashed, and they would not be caged until they made me a murderer.