I land on the side of the apartment complex that Giganta had smashed herself into moments ago to try and get me off of her. She didn't hold back, and the building looks like a wrecking ball slammed into it. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was a soda can someone crushed and tossed into the street. It looks structurally safe, but I know people inside are for sure injured. There's just no way to prepare for the attack of a giant woman.
Smashing a window, I emerge into the hallway of the complex, fire alarms blaring through the building. People are already evacuating out of their apartments, but the doors closest to the impact point are smashed in, preventing people inside from getting out. I smashed down the door to my left, and immediately a dog and their owner rush out, "Thanks, Spider-Woman!"
"No problem!" I respond as I head to the other door. On the other side, I can hear the faint sound of someone crying. I press myself up against the door and say, "I'm gonna get you out of there! Just back up away from the door so I can get in."
Giving it a few moments, I throw my shoulder against the door, knocking it ajar slightly. Inside are two Asian toddlers, tears streaming down their faces. They attempt to speak to me in Mandarin, and considering their age I'm clearly not going to be able to make it clear I don't understand them. But I know there's no way kids this young are here along.
"Mama? Mother?" I ask, hoping they at least understand those words. They motion towards the room in the back. "Okay, stay here."
Moving towards the room, I hope I'm not about to see the worst possible outcome of this situation. Collateral damage in my fights is the biggest threat to the people around me. It's why working in New York is so tough. I never want innocents to get hurt, but when you fight people like Giganta, things are going to happen.
Thankfully, when I turn the corner into the room, I find that their mother is alive, but pinned under a fallen bookshelf. She looks up to me with fear in her eyes, "It's okay. I'll get you out of there."
I lift the solid-wood shelving, which to me feels like nothing, but it probably weighs a few hundred pounds. The woman scrambles out from below, and I ask, "Can you walk?"
She stands, and nods the affirmative, "Good. Go grab your daughters and get out of here."
As she goes to do that, however, the ceiling above starts to come down. I push her out of the way, getting pounded by drywall, furniture, and wooden beams from above. I push up out of the rubble, and see the three of them making their way out of the building. Unfortunately, above, I can hear someone yell for help, I look up through the hole in the ceiling, but see nothing but clear through to the building across the street.
Suddenly, I see a pair of feet in the window outside, before the person they belong to falls towards the street. I fire a webline to the window and and, sending me crashing through it. Another line hits the person in the back as I fly through the air, and I draw them back towards me. I catch the man in midair, and swing down to the street below, handing him off to some paramedics that have shown up to the scene.
"I think everyone should be able to make it out now," I explain to fire and rescue. "The building is holding structurally for the most part, but I'd get in and out quickly just to make sure. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a giant woman to take care of."
Swinging and following the trail of Giganta's destruction, I only hope Wonder Woman is holding up against the villain.
"Pete, You got a location of Giganta and Wonder Woman for me?"
"They're by Columbus Circle," he responds quickly. "Almost at the park."
"Good, if we can get her in there, at least we can limit her damage."
I gain speed as I swing low over the streets of New York. The amount of damage I see is massive. It's going to be in the hundreds-of-millions level when this is all said and done. So far it seems like no one has been killed, thank god, but that's little comfort when plenty of lives are going to be ruined. Wonder Woman and I need to take her out of the equation soon.
When the two women are in sight, it's clear Wonder Woman is just buying time until she can get some help. Giganta slams her arm down towards the hero, brandishing a light pole. Wonder Woman manages to get out of the way, and I see an opening as the momentum of Giganta's swing brings her to one knee. I use the speed I've gathered from my trek here, and roll myself into a ball, creating a wrecking ball from my body. I swing into the giant's jaw with my body like a boxer's uppercut. The impact shoots Giganta to her feet, and she stumbles back into the park.
She looks up at me groggily and wipes a trickle of blood from her mouth, "Come on, ladies. Let's finish this. I have some fun to have after I kill you."
Sergeant Michaels watched Akerman and Seward tie Angel down to the rickety wooden chair. They were in some husk of a factory not far from the corner where Angel slung drugs. In a place like Lynwood it was easy to find some relic of the times back when America actually manufactured things.
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing,” Angel said as Seward zip-tied his wrist together before he zip-tied them to the back of the chair. “I been paying my fucking tribute, pendejo. You got no right!”
“Shut the fuck up,” Akerman shouted.
He whipped out his telescopic nightstick and was preparing to bring it down when Michaels reached out and took him by the wrist. The sergeant’s stern look said it all. It was not Akerman's place to punish Angel. Akerman looked at Seward and held out the nightstick.
“You do it, Andy.”
“What?” Seward asked. He looked from Akerman to Michaels.
“Do what?” Angel yelled. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“We need to know we can trust you,” Michaels said to Seward. “You say you’re with us but you haven’t gotten your hands dirty.”
“Not good and proper,” said Akerman. “You talk a good game, sure. But so far it’s all just been talk.”
“You know who I’m with,” said Angel. “You fuck with me, you fuck with him.”
“I don’t give a fuck with Raul thinks,” said Michaels. “He only thrives because we beat the competition into submission. You think just because you pay us you own us? This fucking spic motherfucker need to learn a lesson on who runs things.”
“Take the fucking baton,” Akerman said to Seward. “Either you beat him, or we beat him and then beat you.”
Seward swallowed hard and took the nightstick. Michaels could feel a small smile creeping on to his face as Seward started towards Angel. Seward’s fear was palpable, but not quite like Angel’s. Gone was the gangsta bravado he’d had from the time they picked him up until just now. He couldn't threaten or bully his way out of this. That shit might work with the cholos, but not against proper white men.
“Please,” Angel said softly. “You don’t have to do this.”
Michaels felt rage bubbling up inside of him at Angel’s words. This piece of shit, this scumbag who poisoned the community, was suddenly dictating terms to them. Fuck him, thought Michaels.
“Do it,” Michaels shouted. “Cave his fucking head in right now!”
With tears forming in his eyes, Seward swung the nightstick at Angel’s head.
Lieutenant John Milford leaned back in his chair and sighed. It was a sigh of contentment. He could feel the anger and fear coming from the three deputies as they executed his orders. So much pain and so much confusion. It was almost orgasmic. They didn’t know it, but the four of them were linked together. Milford fed off their base emotions. It gave him strength. And like a conduit for their fear and rage, Milford’s master fed off of him.
Little whispers filled his ears. The whispers began to grow louder and Milford sat up behind his desk. The whispers always heralded His arrival. Just like that, He was there in front of him. The office was dark and He was hidden in the shadows, but Milford could see His glowing blue eyes clearly in the dim lighting.
~Milford, Milford, Milford.~
He spoke without opening His mouth and His voice was right in Milford’s ear.
~I can feel their anger. The little drug dealer's pain and fear. It’s so potent… it feels so good. But, Milford, I need more.~
“More?" Milford furrowed his brow. "What else can I do? Please, tell me what do you need?”
~I need a sacrifice. A death in my honor.~
A death? They had never gone that far. Ripping off and torturing little spics was as far as they'd gotten. He wanted to punish all those subhuman motherfuckers, but death had never crossed his mind. Milford started to resist. But he felt that pull that only He was capable of. A deep emptiness and longing, a void somewhere in his chest that so severe that Milford had the sudden urge to pull out his service weapon and blow his brains out. This is what He was capable of. Euphoric highs and manic joy on the upswing, suicidal lows on the downswing. It started to fade and a terrified Milford gulp.
“Yes… yes, my lord. Whatever you need.”
The whispers roared in Milford’s ears and just like that, He was gone. Milford wiped sweat from his forehead and started to look for his phone. His hands were shaking as he rifled through the bottom drawers of his desk. Someone had to die tonight. That was the only way He could be satisfied.
The rode in silence, Michaels driving while Akerman rode shotgun. Seward sat in the backseat and looked out the window. He hadn’t made eye contact with them since they were done with Angel, hadn't even spoken once he started swinging. Akerman hadn’t killed him, Michaels had seen to that, but what was left wasn’t much of a person. They put Angel in the trunk of the car and dropped him off a block away from the closest hospital. Someone would find him and get him to the ER. Michaels wasn’t worried about him telling people what happened to him. If he ever ended up as something more than a vegetable then Michaels would be very surprised.
Seward had almost cried when they were dumping him on the sidewalk. It was a little half gasps that he managed to hold back, but by then the damage had been done. That was when Michaels made up his mind. Whatever he was, he sure as hell wasn’t one of them. He’d have to let the lieutenant know and plan the next move. The best outcome would be to shun Andy and ice him out, but Michaels was worried about what Milford would do when he found out. If what they did tonight was the lieutenant’s idea of a test, then how did Milford treat failure?
Michaels looked down when he heard his phone chime. He kept one eye on the road while the other opened his phone to see the message. It wasn’t his personal phone, instead a flip phone burner all the Vikings carried. The number was listed as RESTRICTED. But only one person would be texting him on that number.
Michaels texted back a simple N. A few seconds later came Milford’s reply.
TAKE CARE OF HIM
Michaels cursed to himself and started to type back a reply when he heard Akerman yell. Michaels looked up just in time to swerve and avoid a man standing in the road. He skidded to a stop and jumped out, the other two cops following him as he started to reach for his gun.
“You son of a bitch,” Michaels yelled. “What do you think you’re doing, standing in the road?”
“Just enjoying the night air,” the man said with a smile. He had a British accent. It threw Michaels off for a moment. You saw foreigners in Hollywood and the nice parts of town. Here in Lynwood it was all Mexicans.
Michaels could smell booze before he even got within two feet of the guy. Fucker reeked of it.
"You been drinking tonight?”
“Have you?” the man asked. “Way you’re all over the place, squire. Maybe you had a few?”
He winked and that pissed Michaels off. Within a few seconds, the man was on the ground with Michaels knees pressing into his back. Michaels had his gun pressed to the back of the man’s neck. Michaels could feel the adrenaline coursing through his body. He wanted so badly to pull the trigger and end this man’s life. Something was in his head, screaming at him to pull the trigger.
~Do it for Him~ said a soft voice somewhere inside of him.
“You wanna die tonight, fucker?”
“Depends,” the man said. “You want Raul Garcia to know you beat one of his best dealers brain dead?”
“What the fuck did you just say?” Akerman asked from over Michaels’ shoulder.
Michaels flipped the man over. His face had scratches on it from where he’d been pushed to the ground, but he was smiling wildly at the three deputies.
"What's the matter, freak? Never seen a guy scarier than you before?"
The air around me immediately begins to smell of sulfur. Massive, living tendrils spring up from both sides of the stone gargoyle that I was unfortunate to have already landed on when this - thing - appeared from out of nowhere. My hand instinctually reaches for a batarang or smoke pellet in the face of certain danger, but by the time I manage to look up and get a full sense of the scope of the creature that's now towering above me, as if it is completely engulfing the very building that the gargoyle is attached, the futility of such an attack quickly dawns on me. This is something completely foreign to me and beyond my level of expertise, in both combat or survival. Yet it speaks as though it were once human, leaving me to go with the only sane explanation that what I'm facing is the third in a growing number of metahuman hostiles that seem to be taking an interest in Gotham. By the time it lurches forward, malicious intent evident, there's really only one reasonable course of action that I can think to take.
Despite the readout of my cowl telling me that I had been standing at an estimated forty-eight stories above street level, I ignore the obvious peril and begin a swan dive directly for the concrete, allowing nothing but the wind to carry my descent in an effort to put as much distance between me and the creature as possible within the smallest frame of time. I can see the clay-like residue building off of even the lower levels of the building from here, indicating that he, or it, or whatever the hell I'm supposed to call this thing has permeated the structure. There's no telling how many people are trapped inside, and my scanner's output indicates there are no immediate heat signatures. If there is an imminent danger to anyone aside from myself, I need to lean into the creature's apparent belief that I'm his metahuman target and use it to lure him away from civilian contact. The old tricks of theatricality and deception are going to have to serve me well tonight.
"Base! Hostile made of an unknown origin!"
While I wouldn't ordinarily rely strictly on Alfred's military experience in a high-stress situation of so many unknown variables, as I know how much he hates improvisation, I've literally no time to weigh out the scenario on my own. Seconds could mean the difference between life and death, as this is the threat that both Freeze and Ivy represented when multiplied to an uncomfortable degree. I barely survived those respective encounters when attempting to go at it alone, so I'm not about to leave this one up to chance.
"Right. An emergency situation, I presume. I'm afraid I'm going to need some clarification. What sort of origin could you best estimate?"
I grit my teeth, spreading my cape against the violent draft of Gotham's skyline and slowing my descent just enough to ready myself for a grapple line to spring me forward upon reaching a certain altitude. You're cutting this a little close, Alfred.
"Best guess is a clay residue. Sample's on my glove. Ready the spectrograph."
"I'll need a moment to prepare it. Stall as best you can."
"A moment may be all that I have."
It takes the longest twelve seconds of my life for me to fall to the desired height to pull this off. Firing the grapple outwards, I forget all laws of physics associated with such a stunt and jam my thumb against the trigger for the line's reel. Nearly dislocate my shoulder in the process, but I nevertheless grab onto the grapple gun's handle with both hands and rip myself from a high velocity descent into a forward thrust, building off of the momentum of the fall in order to advance my speed to a level that's still humanly possible. Any faster than this and I'd already be dead from the sheer force of changing altitude that quickly.
As I reel ahead over the rooftops below me faster than I can even count, I manage to glance back at my would-be opponent to see how much he's gaining. My eyes widen as he seems to solidify himself into a shape best resembling a human - give or take ten feet in height and a couple hundred pounds - and smashes onto the far rooftop behind me, briefly flattened into an unrecognizable mess. His body momentarily flattens before he resurfaces and reshapes himself as entirely whole again, never once losing a step.
With any known metahuman or mutant cases, I've never even read of something as extreme as this. The ability of full body transmogrification, able to alter shape, density, appearance, and god knows what else. I'd be a fool to say that I didn't have serious reservations about getting into a fist-fight with something like this. Given the way that he hit a concrete roof at a velocity well over two hundred miles per hour, dropping as though he were made of lead, I highly doubt that this is something I could even land a punch on if I dared to try.
Looking forward, I see the end of the grapple line in sight and prepare to move. Have to vault over a fire escape and remain at least three steps ahead of my current trajectory just to keep some level of distance between us.
"Spectrograph is online, Bruce! Give me a look at the sample!"
Thrusting the palm of my glove directly in eyesight, I briefly allow the lenses in the cowl to transmit a high-definition image of the residue trace that's stained into the fabric back to The Batcomputer, so that Alfred can analyze the substance that this thing's made of. Best that I can give him is a partial scan at first, as a giant tendril of clay sweeps ahead of me and forces me to dodge, forcing me off of the line and sending me into a hard crash onto another rooftop. Luckily, a wooden crate broke my fall. Much as it hurts, it's considerably better than the alternative.
Raising my palm to complete the scan, I immediately notice the tendril smacking down on the pavement, to which I roll to avoid. Making sure to never break eye contact with the glove, I take a very slim chance on a nearby water tower and use my free hand to produce a specialized batarang. Tiny sliver of a wired C-4 hidden in the chamber within. Low-tier explosive.
"Stay still, meat! Or better yet, use one of your fancy powers to make this interesting! I'm dying to know what the hell is so special about a guy who runs around scaring the crap outta the mob!"
Wordlessly, I toss the batarang just as he approaches the water tower, massive spikes and tendrils forming off of his back and arms. As he takes a massive step forward, the batarang hits one of the legs of the water tower and immediately explodes, sending the tower cascading against the monstrosity before he even realizes what's happened. Wood, metal, and water collide into him and force him off of the building, his deformed expression changing from smug to petrified in an instant. As he falls, the scan of the residue on my palm concludes, and Alfred dutifully uploads the image into the spectrograph for me to see with my own eyes. I was never one for forensic analysis, but as Alfred himself taught me at a young age, four eyes are always better than two.
"I assume you're getting this."
"Yes. But I can't even begin to describe what I'm seeing."
"Nor can I, regretfully."
The deep tissue scan that the spectrograph produced feeds back an image that looks, as best as I can tell, warped. There's biological DNA mixed in with an organic substance that certainly resembles the genetic compound of clay - I recognize it from several crime scenes I've investigated in The Narrows, where selling cheaply made pottery is a common street trade - but it's all so mangled and scattered. By all accounts, this thing might have been human once, and the genetic tampering seems too recent to have fully bonded with the skin tissue and organs of whoever this used to be. But it's not human anymore. It's not even metahuman. It's some sort of hybrid between flesh and a foreign element embedded with a consciousness.
"Hmm. That's interesting."
I turn and fire out another grapple, refusing to take the chance that my pursuer is completely down for the count. I need to gain traction towards an area considerably less populated than this.
"You notice anything that I haven't?"
Somersaulting over the aforementioned fire escape, I can already hear several mounds of clay smash against the brick of the buildings below in an attempt to get back to the rooftop level. Kicking off of the fire escape as I fall, I dive forwards and activate the paraglider to retain some of that earlier momentum.
"This sort of analysis used to be my specialty, if you'll recall. And from the readings that the image is giving us on a mere biological level, I daresay that I may have come across a startling conclusion. You're not fighting against one man given monstrous form. You may be fighting... well, several."
Beneath the mask, both of my eyebrows raise.
"You want to run that by me again?"
"I find it hard to believe myself, Bruce, but the spectrograph has already isolated at least four separate strands of DNA separated from within the foreign structure that make up the rest of the cells. This creature isn't simply one unfortunate soul given new life, but several of them bound together to form something ghastly. A sort of post-mortem reanimation through earthly minerals."
I can barely comprehend the information as Alfred relays it, despite the evidence being presented as clear as day. He's essentially telling me that I'm fighting four people who were killed, brought back to life, and made into a solitary creature that seems to have a consciousness all of it's own. The impossibility of this thing's existence just went from questionable to almost certain. Nothing short of some process that no human in existence has ever encountered could have done to those people whatever it took to create this clay-creature.
"The DNA strands. Could you cross-reference them against the DNA samples of recent prison escapees?"
There's a pause.
"I suppose that's feasible, if not oddly specific."
"Before it attacked me, it mentioned something about being broken out of prison by a third party. It was told to go after a metahuman and kill it as compensation for it’s freedom. That thing believes that I'm one of them."
Alfred sighs to himself, as I land on the last stretch of rooftops overlooking Miller's Bay.
"Give me some time, and I may be able to extrapolate the results. But I can't promise you a miracle."
"Direct identification can wait. Right now, I need something more tangible."
"Some way of putting a stop to it."
I scan the area ahead of me. Need to find someplace that's relatively uninhabited. The docks would normally be the safest bet as they're only five blocks away, and the authorized parties aren't scheduled for any importing or exporting jobs that are listed on the books. But there's still the chance that Maroni has a waiting cache of weapons, narcotics, and whatever else in stolen goods that the vermin of Gotham treasure. If I lead the creature there, it could just make more of a mess than whatever the Five Families have in store.
Robinson Park is to the west, and would take me fifteen minutes to get to on foot. No telling of how many are taking a early morning stroll, either. Despite what the press believes, I'm far from the only nocturnal animal that inhabits Gotham. Some people are desperate enough to risk a mugging just to get away from the everyday noise of their day jobs.
Which leaves me with relatively few options. Except...
Turning back as a massive hand of clay grasps the edges of a few rooftops away from me, I immediately dive for cover and hope to hell that I've become hidden enough from sight to buy me some time. The creature pulls itelf back up with a fair amount of elasticity in it's arms, bringing it's body over the scaffolding with one swift motion. It's eyes wild, it begins to search the area. Chuckling to itself, I watch as it looks at it's own hands and form what look to be solid constructs of wrecking balls, void of the chains. Smashing through the roof access of one building with ease, it begins wreaking all sorts of havoc in an effort to find me.
Whoever it once was, the unification of their mind is beyond broken. I'd say that the creature is insane, but I don't even know if sanity would be possible with a being like this. If the old adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely holds any merit, this thing is well beyond the concept of any sense of self-control beyond mindless wanton destruction and murderous intent. It has to be stopped, not just for my sake, but for all of Gotham. I can't have this monster running loose in my city.
"Whatever has to be done to bring it down, it has to be executed here. On the rooftops, far away from any potential casualties."
"That's suicide, Bruce. You're talking as if you're about to charge this thing directly into battle without any backup."
I sneer to myself.
"I don't have a choice. I'm the one it's after. If I can keep it focused on me, it can't spread to the rest of the city."
"That's hardly the most sound logic I've ever..."
"You can argue, or you can help me devise a solution. Either way, there isn't much time."
Alfred goes silent again as I slide against the edge of my cover, peering around the corner to see just how close the creature is. Unfortunately, while still in the midst of it's path of destruction, it's advancing very close. I'll be exposed within the minute if I don't move, and if I do try and move, it'll mean an instantaneous death sentence.
"Your electrical gauntlets are still indisposed, following your incursion with that Ivy woman. You've already tried water, and it's mass is too large to try and freeze. Perhaps heat? Some sort of controlled explosion, large enough to disintegrate the majority of the body?"
"If it's made of clay, wouldn't adding heat harden it?"
"Theoretically, yes. But I'd take hardened and unable to move over it's current state. And with enough force, you could shatter it before it has the chance to try and regain mobility."
At first, it seems like too much of a risk. Inciting an explosion atop one of the roofs could cause structural collapse and bring the building down on it's inhabitants, and I refuse to be party to any collateral damage. But the more that I think about it, there actually is a way to do exactly what Alfred's proposing without affecting anyone but the creature. And the creature's safety isn't something of particular concern to me. I made a vow never to willingly take a life, but this thing has already been proven to be something that, by all scientific definition, isn't truly living. It's some twisted perversion of life given sentience by an unknown factor.
"It'll have to do."
I reach into my belt and pull out as many of the remaining C-4 variations as I can. Stacking onto that a packet of thermite, I take the wiring from the grapple gun and quickly wrap it as tightly as I can until it's bound together. Preparing a seperate line attached to a batarang, I pull out a length of cord and wrap it around one of the pouches of my belt until it sits loosely. I'm going to need it if I plan to survive this.
"C'MON! YOU CALL THIS A FIGHT?! I JUST SHOOK OFF A STINT IN THE RAFT FOR THIS, YOU COWARD! THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS COME OUT AND FACE ME LIKE A MAN!"
The Raft? My mind races as I try and discern how that's even possible. Unless I'm mistaken, it's talking about the high-security supermax prison just outside of New York. And unless it took on a form that was very convincingly human to the naked eye, it couldn't have travelled all that way just to end up here. It must have been brought here, somehow. But that's a part of the mystery that can wait until later. Right now, I believe I'm being called out. Best not to disappointing.
Leaping out from cover, I take the grapple gun holding the line that's attached to the C-4 batarangs and thermite and raise it with my left hand, readying the other line with the right. Aiming squarely for the creature's chest, the scanner in my cowl indicates no vital organs for me to hit, indicating that this thing is even less human than I originally thought. Makes doing what I'm about to do a hell of alot easier, lifting a considerable burden off of my conscience.
With only a few seconds to get clear, I throw out the line to an adjacent building and pull as hard as I can once the batarang hits a solid surface. Swinging off of the rooftop I was already stationed on, I hear the line hit the clay and immediately brace myself for what's to come. The blast is so loud that both eardrums burst, and I'm momentarily blinded, sent flying into the air beyond my own accord. But my grip against the line remains tightly wound, giving me an anchor to safety as a giant fireball engulfs the clay creature from within, containing as much of the blast as possible and alleviating my fears of destroying the building itself.
I would say that I'd like to see that thing emerge from this unscathed, but I really wouldn't.
Hurtling through the air, guided only by the steel cable of the line that I threw, I eventually succeed at hitting another solid patch of roof, this time directly in the face. Briefly winded, I slowly pull myself up and grab onto the rooftop's edge, head still spinning and ears ringing loudly. I suppose I can consider this apart of a series of injuries in recent weeks that I've had to take back home with me. First Ivy and Jessica Jones, then Mr. Freeze, now this thing...
It's all getting to be too much for me to handle.
"And so ends the menace of the Clayface."
Barely feeling as though I'm still alive, I lean against the concrete and work up just enough energy to visibly question Alfred's choice in nickname.
"Forgive me, lad. A droll joke, nothing less. It merely seemed like what one of these individuals would call themselves, given the manner of that transformation."
Pulling myself back up, I survey what remains of the roof that... Clayface, was just blown off of. And to my surprise, there's nothing left to see. No scattered remnants of hardened clay, no dust particles indicating disintegration. Not even a mess of scattered globular pieces. Just a charred, smoking ruin that, at worst, will have to be paved over. Frustrated with that result, I slam my fist against the surface I'm leaning against and fall to my knees.
Clayface is still out there. Gone for now, yes, but not as far removed from Gotham as I'd hoped. Which now brings the count of dangerous, unstable metahumans roaming the city up to at least three, placing the creature within the same category as Ivy and Freeze. More work for me to do that I'm ill-prepared to carry out. And with no leads on the latter two with consideration of the condition I'm in, it seems as though I'm coming up empty for tonight.
"Lad, I'm aware that you're likely in no mood to hear this, but there seems to be a situation developing uptown."
Silently, I pick myself up and breathe in the night's air, trying to shake off the damage that the blast caused. The last thing I needed was another incident that required The Batman's attention, but apparently I'm not going to be given much of a say in the matter.
"According to several eyewitness reports being routed to the GCPD's emergency line as we speak, there's a series of pedestrian vehicles that are swerving out of control and heading into Grant Park. What's curious about this is that it seems as though they're being guided, but beyond the respective driver's volition."
I just fought a monster made of, for lack of a better term, corpses biologically fused into clay, so the news of remote controlled vehicles comes as somewhat of a relief by comparison. But given that this is happening now, and Grant Park isn't too far away if I can reach The Batcycle, there may be a chance that I can disable the vehicles before anyone gets hurt.
At the very least, it'll allow me some time to recover from what I just went through.
Mentally and physically.
"Get me a live feed of the park and direct it to the Batcomputer's servers. Ace isn't going to find Ivy or Freeze at it's current pace. I'll re-route it towards finding a solution in severing whatever signals' connected the vehicles once I arrive."
With that, I take a deep breath, crack my neck and take an immediate step forward.
Nights like these are making me consider an early retirement.
”Magneto? What’s our plan? All the people are in safehouses now.”
”You and the others get to me as quickly as you can.”
Reaching out with her powers, Jean sent along Magneto’s message and a mental image of his location on the coast. Jean made to stand after this was done but fell back to one knee. She felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her. Her telepathic abilities were still new and took much out of her. She watched the silver blur of Pietro rush by the alley she knelt in. The next moment, Scott appeared at the head of the alley.
”Jean!? Jean, are you okay?”
He ran up to her and knelt down. She looked like she’d just ran a marathon.
”I’m… fine. Powers just took a lot out of me. We should get going.”
With a feeble smirk, Jean got to her feet and made for the street with Scott in tow. Together they made their way to the shoreline and met up with the rest of the team. Pietro still looked to be steaming under the too watchful eye of his father literally hovering above the team, held aloft by using his powers to anchor himself to nearby sources of metal. His cape rippled behind him in the winds. They were barely keeping their feet as loose objects flew all around them, but were repelled by a larger barrier place around them all by Magneto. Magneto eventually touched down next to the team.
”Miss Marvel, you need to use your powers and find the person causing this storm. You should be able to find them in that storm.”
”No, she can’t. Just sending messages back and forth drained her. Look at her!’
”I understand your concern, Cyclops, but she must do this so we can stop this storm and prevent further damage.”
Scott began to argue again, but Jean cut him off.
”I’ll do it, I’m fine.”
Both men stopped and turned to her. Terra stepped forward at that moment.
[color=a36209]”I’ll get her closer to the storm, so she can find this person faster.”[color]
Before anyone else could say a word, the ground around both Terra and Jean cracked and moved until it broke free and shot upward to form a wall around the two. Terra’s eyes glowed a faint yellow as the earth began floating into the air and away from the team. The platform blew back and forth slightly, but Terra was able to concentrate and keep it airborne and on course. Magneto turned back to the team.
”I will go help Terra and Miss Marvel. The rest of you -”
”We will go secure a perimeter and double check to be sure everyone is indoors and at a safe distance.”
With a nod to the rest of the team, Quicksilver took off in a blur back toward the town. The rest followed as Magneto launched himself back into the air and quickly caught up with Terra and Miss Marvel. He threw a barrier up around the patch of earth and did what he could to stabilize their flight as they now neared the storm itself. Jean knelt upon the patch of earth and reached out again with her powers, trying to pinpoint any sign of life within the storm. She could feel the strain pushing on her, but she hunkered down further in her own mind and pushed back in a surge of power. Her eyes flashed a vibrant pink as she reached further and found what she was looking for: a woman in the eye of the hurricane. Her thoughts were as turbulent as the hurricane itself and fumbled over one another. She was frightened and confused and surging with a power she couldn’t control. Jean pushed into her thoughts, entering her own mental hurricane and touched the girl’s mind.
”My name’s Jean. You need to calm down and stop this storm. I can sense your powers. I know you can do it. If you don’t, my friends and the people here could be hurt.”
”Wha - ? What’s going on!? Where am I? No! That woman! She - ! The storm! Right - right! I am the storm! ”
Jean’s eyes flashed a still brighter pink, and then she collapsed on the floating earth. The hurricane stopped in its tracks, the winds died down, and the whether calmed, all brought to heel by the dark-skinned woman with a mane of white hair now floating down through the sky toward the X-Force team.
Guy could smell Hector Hammond’s putrid breath from across the room. A long bead of drool left the corner of his mouth and dribbled down his chin. It fell to the ground and landed beside Reed Richards and Harrison Wells. They were unconscious. Guy scanned the lab for the others. Johnny and Reed were knocked out by the chairs. Only Ben Grimm was still standing. Truth be told, Gardner wasn’t sure he’d want anyone else by his side in a close-quarters firefight.
“Now there’s a face only a mother can love. This guy a relative of yours or something, Benji? That mug’s got Yancy Street written all over it.”
There was no response. Guy looked again to the Thing only to find that his famous blue eyes were the same sickly yellow as Hector Hammonds. From his seat, Hammond laughed, or as near to a laugh as he could muster – his fork-like tongue slithering between his rancid teeth as his cheeks expanded back and forth.
~I am afraid that your friend, poor ‘Benji’ as you called him, is no longer with us, Agent Gardner. You see, his simple brain belongs to me now – I see all his thoughts, his memories, his deepest, darkest desires. It's all mine for the taking.~
“Yeah, yeah,” Guy scoffed as his hand snaked towards the service weapon on his waist. “You keep talking, you steaming pile of crap.”
~Are you going to shoot me, Agent? That would be very unwise. I have placed your colleagues in the deepest of sleeps. One that only I can wake them from. Were some terrible accident to befall me, say, a bullet through the skull, they would never wake again.~
Guy sneered. Hammond’s breath was so bad that he was finding it difficult to breathe. He had nothing on him – if he was powerful enough to take down Reed, Johnny, and Sue in one swoop, there was no way Guy could take him down with a bullet. And there was definitely no way he could take down Ben with just a gun. Whether he liked it or not, Guy was backed into a corner with only one way out.
He swung his gun free and unfurled a bullet from it with a crack. It flew directly towards the space between Hammond’s eyes – stopping short only a milimetre from the villain’s bulbous head.
~You would risk your friend’s lives?~
“What can I say?” Guy said with a defiant grin. “I've always been a gambling man.”
With a squint, Hammond sent the bullet flying back towards Gardner and the SHIELD agent tried to leap out of its path. The bullet nicked Guy’s side and he cried out in pain. Hammond laughed again, as Gardner landed on the ground with a thud, and his sickly yellow eyes turned towards Johnny and Franklin Storm. He was about to lower his chair towards them when he heard the lab doors being flung open. Disappearing through them was Guy Gardner – leaving a trail of blood behind him.
Hammond’s glance rested upon Ben Grimm. Without the usual warmth and colour to his eyes, Ben looked every bit a ‘Thing’ – his heavy, rock-like brow now twisted into something cold and uncaring.
~After him, you oafish creature. I didn't spend fifteen years dreaming of getting my revenge on Franklin Storm to have it ruined by a glorified babysitter.~
The Thing’s limbs lugged forwards. There was no life to the movements, no sign of the personality that had made Yancy Street’s favourite son beloved by those that knew him, only a vacant, yellow glare filled with Hammond’s murderous intent. Upon reaching the lab doors, he didn't bother to push them open, but burst through them instead. Wordlessly he followed the trail of blood through the corridors of the Baxter Building.
With each lumbering footstep it felt as if the building itself was moving. In the small room opposite Reed’s lab, Guy was taking shelter from the creature formerly known as Ben Grimm. He was coated in sweat. He figured several criss-crossing sprints through the Baxter Building’s many paths ought to keep Ben off his trail long enough for him to come up with something resembling a plan.
The tablet in his pocket had been crushed and with it went any chance Guy had of communicating with the outside world. Who was he kidding? The breakout at The Raft meant SHIELD was likely stretched beyond breaking point out there. The cavalry wasn’t coming. If Guy was going to get them all out of there, he was going to have to do it on his own.
~Is that how you see yourself, Agent Gardner? The lone ranger? The maverick going against the tide at every turn? Yes, I see it now ... an abusive father, how novel. You buried your head in comic books to escape the trauma. Is that why you joined SHIELD? To prove to the world how big and strong you are? That daddy can’t hurt you anymore?~
Guy could feel Hammond skirting around the edges of his mind. “Shut your mouth, you floating piece of shit, I’m trying to concentrate here.”
As quietly as he could, he rooted around the drawers of the dorm room in search of something useful. There were a few moth-eaten socks, a can of deodorant, and an old magazine in one. He picked up the can of deodorant and stuffed it into one of his pockets. In the next drawer was a half-empty bottle of whiskey and some ancient-looking condoms. Guy pushed them aside, grabbed the bottle of whiskey, and took a quick swig. He stared down at his wounded side and considered rubbing some alcohol into it, before dismissively shaking his head and taking another swig instead.
“Come on,” Guy muttered as he continued his search. “This could not have been the only school in America where kids didn't get high.”
There behind the back of the chest of drawers Guy spotted what he had been looking for – a lighter – and seized upon it with a grateful smile. Satisfied, he poked his head around the entrance to the dorm room in search of the Thing. There, swaddling at the other end of the corridor, was Ben Grimm. Guy gritted his teeth, preparing himself for what he was about to do, and stepped out into the open.
“Hey ugly! You looking for me? Because I hate to break it to you, but this whole strong, silent routine you've got going on doesn’t quite do it for me. Call me old-fashioned but I’m the kind of gal that likes to be wined and dined.”
The Thing came charging down the corridor towards him. Guy was thankful for having found the whiskey because he wasn't sure he would have held his nerve without it. Once Ben was within a few feet of him, he plucked the deodorant out of his pocket and used the lighter to send flames gushing towards his face. A rocky hand shot up to protect Grimm's eyes and Guy grinned, taken aback by how effective it was, until he noticed the other hand balling into a fist.
Had he not seen the punch coming at the last second, it might have caved in Guy’s chest. Instead he managed to roll with it – at least, as much as one can roll with a punch from strong enough to lift a fire truck. The force of the blow sent the SHIELD agent flying through a wall and into the Baxter Building's auditorium.
~Did you truly think that pathetic little pyrotechnic display of yourswould work? You’re even dumber than you look, Gardner. No wonder your father didn’t love you. Who could love someone that stupid? That stubborn?~
A groan left Guy’s near-crumpled lungs as he attempted to pull himself to his feet. The pain was almost unbearable – but the sound of Hammond’s laughter reverberating around his brain was enough to force him to his feet. He was going to see that smug bastard get his even if it was the last thing he ever did.
“I’ll show you stubborn.”
Ben’s fist tore through the Guy-shaped hole in the auditorium wall and stepped through the clearing it created. Gardner was limping now, the wound in his side bleeding more heavily than before, and the pain in his chest was so searing that he was struggling to draw breath.
~If you knew what Franklin Storm did to me, you would be helping me, not trying to stop me. Everything Franklin has achieved is built on lies. All the fame, all the awards, all the admiration – it should all be mine. Do you hear me? I’m going to take it all from him and then, and only then, will I kill him.~
Suddenly Guy stopped in his tracks. His shoulders began to shake and, despite the stabbing pain in his chest, laughter echoed around the auditorium from deep within his beaten lungs. A single tear crept forth the corner of Gardner’s eye and he reached a blood-covered hand up to push it away from his face.
“Oh, this is rich.”
~What are you laughing at, you buffon?~
The Thing had frozen in its tracks. Guy was still laughing, now resting a hand against one of the auditorium’s many seats to support his weight. With each laugh, he could feel Hammond probing his mind in search of answers – and his frustration growing by the second.
After the last laugh had left his lungs Gardner let out a satisfied sigh and looked towards Ben. “You really don’t know, do you?”
~Know what? What are you talking about? There is nothing an ingrate like you could understand that someone with my intellect could not deduce.~
“Franklin Richards is already dead,” Guy laughed. “The guy you’ve spent the best part of two decades fantasizing about killing? Deader than disco. He put a sawn-off in his mouth and blew his brains out a few years back. ”
Though he couldn’t see Hammond, Guy could feel his outrage. The tendrils scurrying through his mind felt as if they had tensed up in shock. He doubted anyone had ever wanted to see Hammond’s face before, but in that moment he couldn’t help but picture what it might look like.
~You’re lying! You’re trying to distract me! Franklin put you up to this, didn’t he? He’s still out there somewhere, lying and cheating people, and all the while you spread misinformation to cover his tracks.~
Guy shrugged his shoulders and glibly tapped the side of his head. “Why not take a closer look if you don’t believe me?”
The auditorium started to shake. The light fixtures above Guy’s head rattled and the chairs flapped. What felt like a gust of wind passed through the building, but on second thought – or perhaps, second smell – Guy realised it wasn't wind at all, but Hammond's wounded howl.
~No! No, this can't be true.~
“Believe it, buddy,” Guy said through a pained smirk.
~He stole everything from me! Everything! Even my revenge.~
“Looks like old Frank was even better at killing himself than you were.”
~You think it’s funny, do you? I’ll bring this whole building down, and then I’ll bring that philanderer’s legacy down with it – but first I’ll kill you.~
Suddenly Ben Grimm’s unmoving limbs came alive. He tore across the auditorium, swinging his forearm like a truncheon as he went, sending chairs flying across the room. This time Guy did not turn to run. He stood his ground. He did his best to mask the pain his broken body was in and stood tall as the Thing reached him.
“No more running,” Guy said as he clenched his fists determinedly. “I’m done talking to that maniac. It’s just me and you now, Benji.”
~What’s wrong, Agent? No more quips?~
Gardner blocked out Hammond’s voice and instead stared directly into the Thing’s eyes. There wasn’t the faintest hint of recognition in his gaze but Guy spoke to him as he would a longtime friend.
“Ben, I know you’re in there somewhere. You’re going to need to wake up for me. Johnny, Reed, and Sue need you. They’re going to die – we’re all going to die – unless you fight the hold this scumbag has o-”
A backhand sent Guy flying across the auditorium. The SHIELD agent coughed and sputtered on the floor as he heard the Thing’s heavy footsteps making their way towards him. There was no escaping for Guy now – he had committed to this course of action and he was going to see it through to its bloody end no matter what.
~You are so very brave, aren’t you? So heroic. But heroism alone is not enough, I'm afraid. My powers are now limitless thanks to the power cosmic. You'll never break my hold on him.~
Ben’s craggy digits reached down and plucked Gardner from the ground. Though he wasn’t in any state to check, Guy was sure that last punch had broken his jaw in several places. From the blurriness that was setting in, his orbital bone might even have been fractured. It didn’t matter – all that mattered was making sure that Ben saw sense in time to save the others.
“Son of a b-” Guy muttered. “This guy thinks he’s stronger than you, but I know better than that. There’s no-one on Earth stronger than Ben Grimm. Not when the chips are down and his people need him – and they need you now, big g-”
This time Ben threw Gardner at the far wall of the auditorium. He passed through it as easily as sodden tissue paper. The shock had set in, he figured, as he noticed blood seeping from a newly-opened cut on his head he couldn't feel. He was on the floor out in the corridor again. That much Guy was sure of but there was very little else he could reliably claim to understand. He was barely breathing, let alone conscious.
And yet he could still hear Hector Hammond’s voice in his head.
~I want you to die knowing that your death will be in vain, Agent Gardner. All your sacrifice will amount to nothing. Once you are dead, I will have this monster rend your friends limb from limb – and then I'll force him to walk into the sea where creatures like him belong.~
It didn’t matter to Guy what Hammond thought. It didn’t matter to him what anyone thought. If he knew one thing, it was that the Fantastic Four were the real deal – the kind of heroes you read about in comic books growing up – and that his world needed them. If he had to lay down his life for them, he would.
Sprawled out across the floor, struggling to keep his eyes open, Guy felt the rock monster's presence looming over him. His yellow eyes peered down at his downed foe. There was nothing in them to make Gardner believe he could reach the man inside. And yet he persevered.
“You’re going to have to kill me, you hear me, Benji? I’m not going to give up on you. You know why? Because if the shoe was on the other foot, even though you barely know me, you wouldn’t give up on me. You’d sooner die. And guess what? So wou-”
A vicious kick knocked Guy unconscious – and sent him across the coridoor onto the staircase in the lobby. His broken nose was almost indistinguishable among the bloody mess Ben had made of his face and his orange hair had become matted brown with dried blood.
The Thing climbed the staircase and found himself stood over Guy ready to deliver the coup-de-grace. He lifted his foot once more, this time preparing to lower it on Gardner’s mangled head.
For the slighetst of moments a flicker of indecision crossed Ben’s face. Though every mental impulse was telling him to lower his boot on Gardner’s head, something else was compelling him not to – something deep within him. He silently strained against Hammond’s control. His leg shaking with the effort it took to resist the villain’s command.
~What are you doing? I told you to kill him!~
The boot came down with a crunch. It landed not on Guy’s head, but beside it. Suddenly Ben’s yellow eyes regained their sparkling blueness and the Thing recoiled in horror at the damage he had done to his friend.
‘Jesus, Guy, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t stop it. I swear to God I couldn’t stop it. Please be breathing, please be breathing, you stubborn son of a bitch. I’ve got enough on my conscious without you dying on me, Carrot Top.”
As if hearing Ben’s voice had dragged him from unconsciousness, Guy’s swollen eyes slid open. He looked up at Ben and shot him a feeble smile full of smashed and missing teeth.
His voice was so weak Ben had to bend down to hear him. “I knew you were still in there, Benji. Give him hell, you hear me? Save the others.”
Ben nodded, gently scooping Guy from the staircase and carrying him across the lobby with great care, before setting him down delicately on a couch. He muttered a quiet promise that he would come back for him and then set off towards the lab with a determined look on his face. Ben was going to drag Hector Hammond kicking and screaming into a world of pain that the super-villain would never, ever come back from.
”The Ranchero of Miracle Mesa” - Glitter And Gold: Part Two
“The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.”
Vigilante never gave much thought to his quiet moments, though he did get precious few of them. He sat on the roof of the local motel, swinging his legs and chewing through a baloney sandwich, watching the sun rise over the valley that lay before Warpath. His gun belt lay beside him, pistols freshly cleaned after that morning’s chores. It was these moments he relished. Calamity wasn’t hangin’ over no one’s head. Warpath wasn’t on the brink. He wished he had a player around to put in some of Pop’s old VHS tapes and curl up with a warm glass of milk like he did as a boy. Simple livin’. He might’ve settled for a sit in the rundown Movie Theater, rememberin’ what was, but most of that space was crammed with the petrified.
That was what most of the buildings were like, anyhow. Even a coupla’ the outhouses set around town. Only place he could find his peace from them was on the roofs, looking up at that sky and letting himself dream. He wondered what the team’d be up to. The Seven Soldiers hadn’t crossed his mind in a good long while… They’d left him with his hands full in Warpath.
Frankenstein was still on the lookout for some magical leads to give ‘em the edge; last communication Vig got said he was now on the hunt for a feller by the name of Doctor Occult. Sir Justin and Lee were still lookin’ for Justin’s gosh darn horse. Vig thought it was a fool's errand, lookin’ for a magic horse with wings n’ all, but if stranger hadn’t happened in Warpath already, then Vig was lyin’ like a no-legged dog. Accordin’ to Sylvester and Pat, they were havin’ a mighty kinda trouble wrasslin’ any help outta’ SHIELD. But then, those boys had a lot on their plate, yessir. Between that Silver feller n’ all manner of mutant and madman poppin’ up? No wonder they didn’t have nothing to spare. Sylvester said he’d try a few more ways, but then he was gonna set his sights on lookin’ for Captain America. That boy was plum convinced that the old timer was out there, somewhere. Maybe someone like that could set the madness in this world right. Lastly, Jonah Hex… Well, Vig tried not to think too hard about Jonah Hex. He’d set him n’ Billy Gunn sittin’ side by side in Gunn’s living room, turned toward the TV. Sometimes if he let his imagination get away from him, he could almost hear ‘em grumbling to each other like it was old times, before… Well, before all this. Before The Dummy. Before The Spirit.
The Spirit had contented itself to remain real quiet since The Bounty Hunters. There were times when Vig though to go lookin’ for it, and thought better of it. Maybe that fight did it, and that was all that thing had left in it. In his heart and in the back of his mind Vig knew it was still there, lurking. Whatever he could guess on it was near blank, just vague senses of emotion. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. It seemed absent from his dreams too, like it was trying to separate itself from the man who’d massacred those people. ”Those Bounty Hunters”, Vig corrected himself. He still wasn’t sure what to make of it. That was his first real fight since he’d been out of Hell, and he’d relished it… Even though that was supposed to be what he was getting away from. Instead he’d dug into it and hadn’t considered what those Hunters might’ve been. Who he might’ve killed. He tried to pretend it was just what was best for Warpath, but he knew those Hunters were coming for him and him alone. Maybe if he’d let them take him, those boys would still be alive.
Anyhow, best not to think on that. Least not now. Supposedly Frankenstein would be ready to rendezvous somewhere in afew days and discuss the situation down in Warpath. Til’ then, Vig just had to make sure that the town didn’t try to burn itself down again. Vig stood, wiping the sandwich crumbs off his garments. He hoisted his gunbelt and carried it over his shoulder. He took a long stretch, feeling for the subtle tension and pop in his shoulders. He rolled them, and took one long look up into the sky. Something told him this’d be his last rest for a long while.
Like it was responding to his thoughts, he was a burst of blue dancing over Warpath. It started as a tiny speck, winding through the air like it was giving itself emergency flying lessons. As it started to get bigger its flight leveled off a little, but it was losing altitude like a one-winged pigeon. Vig ran across the rooftops, gritting his teeth and flinging himself over the bigger gaps.
”Buildings ‘round here are too big to be doin’ that...” He grumbled. The thing was much lower now, and he resolved itself into the form of a man… Type thing. It was humanoid, that was for certain. Whatever it was, near as Vig could tell, but it had blue dangly bits comin’ off it all over the shop. Vig reached into his bag for a pair of binoculars and held them up to his eyes.
It wasn’t human, but it certainly wasn’t no demon or spirit neither. Plus, those things don’t exactly come from up top. It looked a bit like a man in a some kinda future armor, bit like what that Wonder Woman lady tooled around in, but.. Different... Definitely different. It had all kindsa blue spikes n’ spines n’ wing lookin’ things comin’ off it. He was holding to the air with jets in his hands and back, but he didn’t seem much like he was doin’ a great job of it. Poor feller looked like he was tryin’ his damndest just to stay aloft, say nothin’ about landing.
Well… Whatever it was, it didn’t really seem to know how to work its own contraption. Couldn’t be too darn big of a threat. Either way, it’d have to come down eventually, when it ran outta’ whatever kinda fuel it was on, or figured how to land the thing. Might as well start off on the right foot.
”Hey! Need some help there, feller?” Greg cupped his hangs around his mouth and shouted like his Pop taught him to. You could always hear Sheriff Mort from cross the clean other side of town. He bellowed deep from his lungs and his belly. Hopefully it’d be enough for the thing to hear him from that high up. He gestured with one hand. “There’s plentya hay over yonder! Land there!”
Greg hopped off the roof and landed in a roll. He dusted himself off and drew his pistol, setting off for the hay bales out front of Ms. Hart’s barn.
Jaime Reyes had started to direct himself toward the town in search of a landing site, using the makeshift turbo engines strapped to his arms as pseudo flight sticks.
He moved with roughly the same amount of finesse as a bull charging through a China shop. With every burst forward he felt himself lurch and nearly lose control, being forced to wrestle against the force pushing up against his arms to keep from launching head first toward the desert floor. "Damn it, come on!" No amount of grumbling or growling was helping him steer any more effectively. The settlement was coming up quick, and if he didn't find something to land on, he'd accidentally end up smashing through the side of one of these buildings.
A voice carried on the wind reached his ears, nearly sending him toppling over out of surprise.
"What, who-" He caught sight of the voice's origin in roughly the same moment that it became clear enough to understand. There was a figure standing atop one of the rickety buildings, shouting about 'fellers' and 'hay' in an accent that Reyes recognized immediately. 'I'm back in Texas?' It was a lucky break, to be sure, but he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He'd had enough bad luck recently to last a lifetime. He was even luckier that the man had decided to help direct him instead of immediately taking pot shots at what looked like a demonic suit of bug armor straight from hell.
Following the Texan's advice, Jaime started to scan the immediate block of houses for bales of hay. It didn't take long to zero-in on a trailer stuffed from top to bottom with those giant, uncomfortable looking plumps of dead grass. He positioned himself over the trailer, hovering a good forty feet above it to keep the cannons from lighting it all ablaze. "Here goes nothing." Reyes sucked in a breath and cut off all four of his engines, letting gravity drag him down to the ground with frightening rapidity. He hit the pile with a loud thud, straw spraying out in every direction as he destroyed several layers of bales in his fall, smacking down against the trailer with enough force to pop the tires. The rest of it was either crushed underneath him, sent rolling off the side or dragged down to topple atop him.
He lay there covered in dried out hay for several seconds, tempted to simply pass out for a few hours. He was in desperate need of the recovery time after everything that had went down, and the fall straight onto his already injured back had done little to lessen the pain he was already in. Reyes might need more than sleep, the more he thought about it; he might need a doctor.
But alas it wasn't to be as the sound of plodding feet drew Reyes out of the tons of hay, his body forcing itself through the side as he rolled off the trailer and hit the dirt with a crunch. Plucks of straw remained lodged in several places along Reyes armor, refusing to come loose no matter how much he shook at it.
The man he had to thank for guiding him here was dressed head to toe like half of the men Reyes knew in El Paso, basically confirming his suspicion that he was, indeed, back home. He didn't recognize this town in particular- it looked like any number of tiny, out of the way hamlets that dotted the state's plains- but it meant he wouldn't need to worry about finding a bus ride back home dressed head to toe like a Martian invader. "Don't- don't freak out, I'm not gonna hurt ya." Reyes brought his hands up in front of him to prove he meant no harm, assuming his appearance would calm some alarm in the cowboy- though, thinking back, he'd been quick to offer him help back when he was lighting up the sky like it was the second Battle of London.
It was a bit striking to think about how desensitized most people were to the strange and the impossible these days, but he wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't the first superhuman to land in this guy's backyard. It was going to take some time to get used to the world being the way it was; hell, it'd take even more time coming to grips with the fact that he was one of the superhumans making life so difficult for everyone else.
Reyes felt obligated to introduce himself, despite the...unique circumstances of the situation. This guy was the reason he hadn't gotten himself into even more trouble by flying through someone's house or landing atop a car. "Thanks for, uh, helpin' me out back there. My name's..." Reyes went to introduce himself, only for his eyes to catch something on the horizon. "My...name's...do you- do you see that?"
He felt the blood drain from his face at the sight of it.
Jaime had the audacity to think that maybe- for just one moment, he thought that just maybe he was done with being hunted, chased and assaulted at every turn. It had finally looked like he would get a moment of peace to recuperate and rest. But he'd been wrong to think that it was over.
It stood with an eerie stillness atop a nearby hill, looking down at them with eyes full of a ravenous sort of contempt. Even at this distance, Reyes could tell that it was massive. A giant in every sense of the word with wide shoulders and a chest of rippling muscle and tight sinew, all tightly backed into an eight foot tall frame draped in the color of the midnight sky. It didn't move at all, save for the slow rise and fall of it's chest as it infected the air with it's hot, hungry breath.
'Not compatible.' The voice of the Scarab snarled, it's voice dripping heavy with an anger that gave Reyes pause.
"I think you need to go." Reyes gulped, wrapping his hands into fists. "I dunno who this guy is, but he looks like trouble."
Iris ducked as a bolt of flame moved over her head, she swore as she smelled her own hair burning slightly. This is what she got for deciding to forgo the cowl, stupid Bar- She nearly tripped as thoughts of Barry intruded in on her mind. A blast of fire caught her unaware from behind, sending her careering down the road. She screamed in pain, her healing factor and suit being the only two things that kept her alive from the searing heat. She rolled over and looked over at Heatwave, he laughed as he stepped towards her. The fire encompassed his entire body now, his feet melting the tarmac below his feet slightly. Leaving grooves behind him where he was walking.
She could hear sirens in the distance, the Police would be here soon and that meant that her father could be here soon. She needed to end this before there was any risk of there being a loss of life, least of all her dads. Lifting herself off the ground she ran straight at him, ready to pass through the heat that surrounded him in order to get a decent hit on him. Instead she had to duck and slide as a wall of fire approached her. Sliding underneath the fire she slid, rolled and bounced of the ground awkwardly before coming to a stop. She groaned as she held her side. This wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered.
“Mick! You need to stop this now, before people get hurt!” She rolled to the side, putting all her energy into it as a stream of fire came towards her. Burning through the street and into the sewers below. Pushing herself up she ran up onto a nearby balcony, after checking that all the immediate rooms were empty. Emptying those that weren’t, as always some people had decided to stick around to try and see what was going on. “This isn’t you, this is the power that has been forced upon you.”
She didn’t entirely believe this, everything she had on Mick had him marked as a despicable human being. While she believed everyone deserves their day in court there was no way in hell Mick Rory was by any means innocent. Barry however, Barry always saw the good in people. If she was too live up to the legacy of the Flash that lived on in her head, she had to believe in others the same way people believed in her. At the very least she hoped to keep him talking long enough that she could figure something out. All she knew right now is the likely source of his power was the furnace that had attached itself to his chest somehow.
“The fires always been inside Flash. It’s just now, I can let it OUT!” There was an explosion as fire catapulted itself into eh sky, she felt the shockwave hit her and winced. This wasn’t going to be an easy fight to win, she wasn’t entirely sure what she could possibly do to stop him. Tires screeching brought her out of her reverie.
She looked down the street to see police cruisers and fire engines lined up. The police were hunkered down behind the backs of cars, the hoods and behind doors while the Firemen readied the hoses. She saw her dad in all the chaos, gun aimed directly at Heatwave along with the guns of all the officers. “FREEZE!” Iris winced slightly at the choice in words.
Jumping from the balcony she was on she saw the flame begin to leave Heatwaves hands. The furnace in his chest burning brightly as it was used. The fire moved fast to the regular human eye, impossibly so. Even too her it seemed fast as she ran down the side of the building. Nearing the bottom she pushed off, cursing as she slowed down in the air for a millisecond before her feet made contact with the sidewalk. The burn on her back seared, reminding her off it’s existence as she pushed on towards the police barricade. She pushed herself harder, fighting through the pain. She had to make it in time. No-one else was going to die on her watch.
Taking a leap forward she stood on front of the police line. Directly between her father and the flames, spinning her arms she created a blast of wind that collided with the flames. Sending it careering out sideways, a cone of protection. She grunted as Heatwave yelled, the two opposing forces crashing against one another. She heard shots go off behind her as the police opened fire on the metahuman who threatened their city, their lives and their hero. The bullets all melted as they got close to Heatwave, splattering with the molten remains. Whether or not it bothered him was a mystery, he certainly acted as if he wasn’t phased by the hot liquids assaulting his body. He roared, the flames intensity increased and then stopped as he fell to one knee panting. The air cast forth by her arms hit him square in the chest sending him flying down the street. She finally had her chance. Taking steps forwards she kept pushing the air at him, blowing him back. At the end of the street there was a park, in the park there was a pond. It was nowhere near as good as putting him in the river, but right now she was really looking for any possible body of water to dump him in.
She turned her head to look back down the street, the police were being prevented from advancing by some of the shield agents. While Coulson followed her, some strange form of rifle in his hands that emitted a blue light. He walked with a casual lack of care, as if this was just another day at the office for him. Trusting that his men could stop the police, or more specifically her father, from doing anything stupid. Focusing her attention back on the job at hand she stopped as Heatwave dove his hands straight into the ground grabbing hold of the road. His hands melting the surface, he still moved backwards but more slowly and he was no longer rolling out of control.
Sweat dripping down her forehead she pushed harder, grunting with the exertion as she increased the speed of her rotations. Iris could feel the heat now, as Heatwave shoved his feet into the ground stopping his movement entirely. He looked up at her, eyes completely consumed by fire. “YOU THINK YOU CAN STOP ME!?”
He stood up, feet sinking into the ground. Sliding backwards slightly, but it was obvious that this trick was no longer working against him. He took a step forward. “I AM FLAME!”
“I AM FIRE!”
He was breaking into a run now, it took all she had just to slow him down.
“I WILL BURN YOUR WHOLE WORLD DOWN!” Running right towards her she stopped as he launched himself into the air, diving to the side as his fist came down beside her. The heat emanating from his body was searing, whatever power the surfer had infused him with when he gave him that weapon had literally turned him into a walking furnace. She was pushed back as a wave of fire burst from his fist. Iris turned to outrun the blast of fire before it burned her, spotting Coulson nearby she ran over and grabbed him, dragging him away from the immediate danger but found herself slowing. A coldness seeped into her, slowing her movement as she attempted to return him take him to safety. In what seemed like forever, compared to her usual speed, she deposited Coulson in a nearby alleyway.
The chill seemed to penetrate through her suit, skin and through to her bones. As she let go and took a step back she looked down at the gun. “What is that thing?”
“Just a little something the tech boys worked up, we’ve had a lot of fire powered individuals popping up. This should cool them down.” There was a high pitched whirring sound as the weapon powered up. “Lets nail thi-”
”The Ranchero of Miracle Mesa” - Glitter And Gold: Part Three
“The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.”
The creature slammed into the hay bales like a torpedo sending up plumes of straw up and over the barn. It’d be a heckuva thing to explain that to Ms. Hart once she -- Vig straightened up and tightened his grip on his pistol, heading for the cart of hay. The wheels of the cart had exploded into splinters like a homemade hand grenade. He’d probably be pullin’ the shrapnel out of his neighbor’s paint jobs for weeks. Not to mention re-siding a coupla houses. Like he didn’t have enough chores already. Hopefully the alien feller would repay him for the happy landing by not trying to blow his got damn head off.
The thing didn’t much look like he expected. As the thing rolled out of the trailer and smacked into the ground with a metallic ‘thunk’, Vig sized it up, other hand already getting ready to draw his second weapon. It looked something like a man all wrapped up in some kinda blue carapace, like a big ol’ beetle had done swallowed him up. It was a weird mesh of hard angles and edges, but with smooth plates connecting it all. Definitely not of this world, but by Greg’s measure, not really pointy enough to be demonic, neither. Still didn’t mean it wasn’t hostile. Those thrusters it was using looked mighty big, enough to blow him clean apart if he wasn’t careful.
"Don't- don't freak out, I'm not gonna hurt ya."
Vig took a step back. Damn him if it didn’t sound human. He, er, it, sounded mighty young and mighty wounded. Like some teenager had gotten ‘imself into all kinds of trouble. It held its hands up and Vig could practically see it wince under the armor. It had to be hurtin’ mighty bad, and it didn’t seem like it was trying to kill him. Least not yet. Vig holstered his pistols and stared out at the thing from under the brim of his hat,
"Thanks for, uh, helpin' me out back there. My name's..."
This kid, uh, thing, had to be human… Right? There was something to the quality of its voice, something real. Fact of the matter, he didn’t sound much unlike the Bounty… Vig swallowed. Whoever or whatever this kid was, he seemed in a bad way. The front of his armor was scuffed and damned if Vig couldn’t hear he was draggin’ something awful. He didn’t sound much unlike Vig did when he finally clawed his way out of Hell, just ready for some damn sleep. But he seemed… Distracted by something on the Horizon.
In that moment, The Spirit of Vengeance exploded across his brain all at once. It was like a fire alarm blasting in his eardrum. It wasn’t quite like anything he’d ever felt from it before. It wasn’t panic and it wasn’t anger it was… It was confusion.
“Let me ouuuuuttt!” It hissed. It seemed to spread over and dig into Vig’s mind, trying to wrest control. Vig fought and snapped his head around. He ground his teeth and focused on what he was seeing, refusing to let The Spirit in. Whatever the hell the kid said next fell on deaf ears.
The man before him stood on the far edge of town. He felt in the depths of his soul that it was a man, no creature or devil. But it was… Tainted by something. Some swirling, black-and-silver-and-gold power permeated his form, flowing up and down his veins and into the depths of his very being. He was an eight foot slab of muscle, wrapped head to toe in a black fabric that covered everything but his lower face and his eyes. His skin seemed almost green in the moonlight, and his eyes were dark and unreadable, seeming to suck all the light around them in.
"I think you need to go. I dunno who this guy is, but he looks like trouble."
”I’m no stranger to danger, pardner. Just stay behind me, and get ready for… For something.” Vig could feel The Spirit pressing against the back of his eyeballs, like it was jockeying for a glance at the the man. The Spirit seemed to be struggling to quantify it. It was poisoned with an aura of death that sweltered about it, but at its core it was… It was a man. Just a man. Like any other. Vig took note that The Spirit was real quiet on the subject of the alien kid.
”We don’t take much kind to strangers who don’t introduce themselves ‘around here, pardner.” Vig pulled both of his guns and sighted up for center mass. The thing stood mighty close to the town’s walls, where Vig had left some leftover explosive from his time with Frank. If things went south, maybe he could tag a coupla those and end a fight before it starts.
”Vigilante. In a way, I simply must thank you. Without you, I never would’ve gotten this opportunity” Vig could tell from his lips that the man spoke soft, but he could feel the reverberating bass of the man’s words in his bones.
”They call me Black Star. The Surfer sends his regards. Goodbye.” The man moved faster than Vig could react. Vig’s first shot went wild and Black Star became a blur, dashing to a nearby house. He wrenched out one of the porch’s support beams, ignoring the shots that Vig was planting in him. He turned back to Vig and cracked a smile. He threw threw the beam like a javelin at what musta been a million miles an hour.
“MOVE!” Vig shouted, shoving the kid to one side and diving to the other, firing as he landed in the dust. “Git to cover! I’ll handle this!” Vig rolled on his belly as another beam sailed over his head. He’d already emptied one pistol, and the opponent didn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
“Let me fight it!” The Spirit hissed in his head. It was smashing against every mental barrier it could find, trying to worm its way to the surface and attack whatever force surrounded the man before them. Trying to keep it under was like wrestling a bucking bronco. Vig rolled to his feet and fanned the hammer of his weapon. Black Star laughed; now he was throwing head-sized chunks of ceiling and fence post like ballistic missiles. Vig swore and tossed aside his spent guns. He only had the one belt on him when he went to help the kid. Time to improvise.
Vig pulled his lariat from his side and whipped at the dirt and sand, stoking up clouds of dust. He swatted it away from his eyes and rolled, avoiding another round of ballistics. Hopefully the smokescreen would make them hard to hit for long enough for him to at least get the alien-feller to cover.
Elektra's mournful, defeated voice played on Matt's mind as he followed Harry Ricci, Mob Lawyer, along his winding night-on-the-town. He played the short, awkward conversation over and over in his mind, only paying half-attention to the movements of his target - but enough to notice that, despite bouncing from bar to bar to bar all evening - the better part of four hours since finding him initially - the smell of alcohol was one that merely clinged to Ricci, rather than originated from him. When the wind hit him Matt could smell only cola, not bourbon, on his breath, and his heartbeat had been the elevated thudthudthud of a stressed and anxious man all night, and not the lax thump - thump of a sedated drunkard like many of the other patrons of the bars and club that Ricci had visited this evening. They were making a slow, winding path downtown, inching ever closer and closer to the address that had been whispered to Ricci some hours earlier; but Matt couldn't help but wonder why he bothered with the charade of trawling the clubs at all, rather than heading straight to the end destination. It reeked of suspicion. It reeked of a trap. Matt double checked his positioning, ensuring he was following at a safe distance, reassuring himself that he hadn't been made. The trail continued to the next block over - 35th - and as Ricci entered yet another bar, Matt chose the moment to softly descend from the rooftop via a fire escape on the exterior of the building. He hit the ground with a crunch and crouched low, hunkering down behind a large dumpster to wait for Ricci. The address was now just two streets over; Matthew had no doubt this bar was the last before the end destination, and whatever or whoever lay there for Ricci.
Matt wasn't sure what to prepare for, but he poised on the balls of his feet and hovered his hands over the holsters of his batons on his thighs nonetheless; the night was noisy, thick with the smell and heat of drunkards young and old. Matt lost himself in them, letting his senses wander the street, astrally moving from couple to couple, in and out of bars. A whiskey chaser and laughter at the one friend who chucked it down the wrong pipe and now spluttered, heat blossoming on their cheeks. A jibe and a joke as a group left one bar and debated on the next, each member arguing for their own suggestion and deriding the others. A couple sitting across from each other, a glass of wine each, fingers wordlessly intertwined and a heat building at their cores as the woman used her legs to play with her partner's. Two long-time friends reuiniting, arguing over who gets to purchase the first round, a warm, loving tone in both voices, before the decision is made and four drinks are bought, a clink of glasses saying more than either of them could put into words. All of this surrounded Matthew, a living, breathing city of good people with kind hearts.
But surrounding that was the darkness Matthew fought against. Up high in the flats above him, there were sobs as a husband drunkenly berated his wife and son. In the next building over, halfway up, two young men - too young to be in this world, but involved all the same - compared guns and knives and organised weed, cocaine, and heroin for a night of selling. Two streets over, shivering women in provocative clothing solicited passing men, their hearts thudding with cold and anxiety about bringing enough money back to their pimp. It was always there, cloying and clawing at Matt's mind, an underlying decay that threatened to rot away the very foundations of the city and bring it all down until everything sunk into the murky pits that the bad men and women of Hell's Kitchen called home. He would not - could not - allow them to hollow out his city any more. He had made small progress since beginning his crusade, the saviour of the people, beating back would-be muggers and rapists, assaulting laundering operations or arms deals. But these were simply symptoms of a greater illness; now, Matthew needed to be the cure to the disease, not the medication to treat it. He needed to go after the biggest fish he could. The assault began here and now, with Ricci and his mysterious contact.
The door to the bar Matt was watching from his vantage point in the alley across the street swung open, and from it erupted sound and smells, but Matthew cared only about the smell of Ricci's cologne and the sound of Ricci's heartbeat. The cologne was tinged with a nervous sweat now, and his heartbeat had elevated to an even higher level. Matthew was worried his mark might pop and have a brain aneurysm before they reached the meeting point.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Ricci's brain remained unruptured as he stepped out of the bar and let the door close behind him, straightening his tie as he looked up and down the street both ways. Matthew waited for a few tense moments, holding his breath unconciously, and then Ricci turned and began walk to their final destination, one block over. 34th and Lexington; a nondescript street with a bodega and laundrette on one side, and low-income apartment buildings on the other. There was a service alley down the side of the bodega and Matthew could already feel the presence of someone there, a low heat and a steady pulse as they waited patiently. Ricci beelined for the alleyway, and Matthew tensed up in anticipation. This was it.
The man nodded as Ricci approached and then he asked, as previously instructed, for a 'house special with a sour twist'. The contact nodded again, and wordlessly retrieved something from his coat before handing it to Ricci. It seemed to be some manner of large envelope, but it was bulky and Matthew heard a rattle from within as Ricci gripped it, a sound that seemed familiar to him but he was somehow unable to place within the context. Whatever was in that envelope, it was what Ricci had arrived for. The contact spoke as Ricci tore the top of the envelope off and peered at what was inside. His heartbeat spiked again, and now Matthew began to move across the street to the alleyway, his own pulse rising as he prepared for action.
"You've done excellent work thusfar, and he extends his gratitude. He asks you for only for one final favour." Ricci gave him a long stare, and then nodded with a particular sense of finality. "The organisation thanks you for your commendable loyalty. Naturally, we all wish you good luck."
The contact left and Matthew waited for Ricci to move before he approached - but Ricci didn't move, he just stood in the alley alone, clutching his envelope and...waiting. Matthew grew impatient. He removed his batons from their holsters and stepped around the corner, quiet and menacing, letting his boots crunch on the badly-kept ground of the alleyway to announce his presence, doing his best to appear intimidating and frightening. Ricci pushed his hand into his envelope as he turned around and Matthew immediately broke into a sprint as he realised where he recognised that metallic rattling and slight clinking. Ricci had pulled a pistol out, and as the envelope dropped to the ground he stretched out his arm and pulled the trigger haphazardly, squeezing it over and over. Matthew threw himself into a slide underneath the first two bullets, feeling the air split in front of them and the shockwaves of pressure left behind them, the white-heat of the shot lingering in the gun's barrel before exploding again and again and again, every new shot another cacophony that overwhelmed Matt's mind; from the slide he slung himself into a sideways roll before springing up and pushing a boot against the wall to vault backwards. Sparks and mortar flew as a bullet crumpled against brick where Matthew had been mere moments before - and as Matt practically flew through the air, propelled by adrenaline alone, he swung his batons down on Ricci's arm, shattering the radius bone and putting his shooting arm out of action. Matt landed to the side and flipped, bringing his boot aggressively into Ricci's chest and taking him to the floor, before following the fall with his baton again, this time cracking ribs. The gun clattered to the floor, and Matthew stood slowly, looming over the panting Ricci. He made a vague clawing at the discarded pistol with his non-broken arm, and Matt stepped on his wrist with an aggressive amount of pressure, letting Ricci squirm and groan for a few seconds before he dropped and drove his knee into the side of his head, knocking Ricci unconcious, and allowing Matt to search his body.
There wasn't much; change and small notes from the bars, a balled up napkin that reeked of sweat, a wallet with a few business cards and very little else. In his left jacket pocket, however, Matt found a phone - modern, sleek. No case. He flipped the silent switch on the side off and pressed the home button, feeling the faintest whirring from within as it fired up out of standby, but there was no forthcoming click as the phone unlocked; he pressed the home button again, and the phone gave out a slight vibration. Entry locked. He had a good idea how to gain passage however; reaching down, he took the broken arm of Ricci in hand - the dominant hand, he made an educated guess at, as it had been the hand Ricci had taken the pistol in initially - and pressed the thumb against the home button. The phone unlocked, and Murdock dropped the arm, to a significant groan from the groggy, semi-unconcious Ricci. He held the home button down until the voice command system activated.
"Activate text-to-speech dictation." The phone dinged with an affirmative. "Open messages." The phone made a swishing sound as the relevant app opened, and at this point, began to dictate the names of those whom Ricci currently held conversations with. Matt listened with growing impatience as the phone listed known low-level mob thugs, local business, several different females including one that shared Ricci's name...and then it said 'Kingpin', with as much anticlimatic aplomb as Matthew would expect a waitor reading the day's special soup for the fifth time in one dinner order. His heart skipped a beat, and he opened his mouth to say, 'Open my conversation with Kingpin', but only got as far as "Open-" before he heard Ricci's weight shifting behind him with a considerable groan, and then that metallic clank of the gun being picked up from the ground, and how could he have been so careless to not have kicked it away, clenching the phone in hand as he tensed his legs to dive out of the way of the incoming bullet-
There was a gunshot that felt louder than any of the shots before it, but Matthew felt no air splitting in his direction, no belch of heat towards him. He heard a wet, squelching sound; the unmistakable thick trickle of blood hitting ground; a low, moaning gurgle. The smell of fresh blood exploded forth, and he heard Ricci's pulse quiver and become thinner and faster - and then there was a final, sickening thud and a following clatter of metal on concrete.
Matt turned around. He already knew where the last bullet had gone, and it mattered little now. Angry as he was, any frustration or rage at lost answers - or even lost lives - was impotent and irrelevant. The phone pinged, vibrating as it rang and dictated its call aloud.
'INCOMING CALL FROM: KINGPIN'
Matthew answered, and brought the phone to his ear. He couldn't bring himself to find appropriate words. He wasn't sure he needed to. The dulcet, menacing tones of his nemesis soon erased all other thoughts from his mind.
"I am so sorry that we must first meet in such unpleasant circumstances. Believe me, were your self-imposed involvement in my affairs not to have come at such... inopportune a time, I may have admired your...tenacity. Alas, your indominatable efforts have proved an unbearable thorn in my side, and so, the time has come for such an opponent to be...removed. Obviously, my men have found themselves...outmatched, in the past. And it would seem that subterfuge, though poorly executed, still underestimates your abilities. And so, we have come to the only remaining solution to you, my final problem."
Matt cleared his throat. "I am far from your final problem. Even if you kill me, there will be more that come for you. And I will not go down easy."
Through the phone, Kingpin chuckled, and Matt struck the wall with the baton in his free hand, removing a chunk of brick at the impact point."Please, have no doubt that I will kill you. But before that...inevitable end, I will first make an example of you. I will show the world that those who seek to hinder me will lose...everything. You see, this city is mine. And it shall remain. Mine. What you do now is of no concern; you have already chosen your fate, and the fates of others, through your actions. There is a universal truth, Mr. Murdock. And it is that everything...everything. Has consequences."
The phone hit the ground before the line went dead. Matthew was already running.
W E D N E S D A Y, A U G U S T 0 8T H, 2 0 1 8 - 1 2 : 4 2 p m | D O W N T O W N
In a town like Marville, one walking corpse would be enough to cause panic. But, when its entire graveyard started to rise, the entire town quickly descended into a state that can only be described as complete pandemonium. While Thor was in the midst of battle with the Gentleman Ghost and the Shadow Thief, it was Marville’s Sheriff’s department who were coming to the rescue of the town’s citizens.
Gunfire echoed down Marville’s main street as the abandoned vehicles littered about it provided an ample impromptu barricade for Marville’s finest as they laid down cover fire for other deputies who were rescuing those trapped by the zombie horde and ghostly chorus that now flooded the town’s streets and storefronts.
“I don’t want to find out what happens if one of those undead bitches bites someone, so make it sure it don’t happen!” Sheriff Lamb yelled over the din of gunfire as Barbara ducked behind their makeshift barricade, reloading her weapon.
The town hall was the largest building within a five block radius and by Sheriff Lamb’s estimate, a far more strategic point to defend compared to being caught out in the open as they currently were. Their goal was to get as many people barricaded inside and then make a stand while they waited for back up. Whether it be another county’s Sheriff’s department, Thor or one of his super friends.
Gunshot after gunshot continued to ring out as the deputies took down zombie after zombie while retreating towards town hall. Ducking as a ghost flew overhead, Barbara cocked her shotgun, taking aim only to hesitate before pulling the trigger. The zombie continued to lumber towards her, the skin on its face not near as decayed as some of the others she had put down. A bright blue eye swiveled around in its socket as a mass of grey hair clung to the side of its face. But even with all that, Barbara recognized the undead man as Lamb’s predecessor, Sheriff Mars, who had passed away a month ago.
“Norris!” Barbara shook her head at the sound of her name, realizing how close she had allowed the zombie to get as she frantically pulled the trigger. She nearly vomited as its head exploded, splashing her with a dark, thick, sickly ooze. Regaining her composure, Barbara fired again, and again, all the while damning the man who had caused the town’s dead to reject their rest.
“I need deputies to secure the rear!” Lamb’s voice rang out as Barbara’s radio crackled to life. Reaching to her vest to respond, Barbara pressed her cheek against the button, returning her hand to her weapon as quickly stepped backwards, firing at a rushing zombie.
“I can take point on that Sheriff.” She responded, swinging the butt of her weapon into another undead skull before spinning around and firing again as a zombie came up behind her..
“‘Preciate that Norris!” The Sheriff replied as Barbara began to change her position, skirting the outside of town hall, emerging into the rear parking lot as she was quickly flanked by several other deputies. Taking a brief moment to reload, Barbara raised her weapon in time to open fire again.
“Come on you bastards!” She screamed. “Come get some!” The horde advanced faster as Barbara fired her last round. Dropping the shotgun as she drew her sidearm, quickly emptying the clip as her eyes widened in horror as the weapon failed to fire. Beside her another deputy fell into the same trap, scrambling to their vest for another clip only for a zombie to tackle them from the side. Screams filled the parking lot as officer after officer ran out of ammo and were set upon by the zombies.
Rolling out of the way, Barbara picked her shotgun up again, brandishing the empty weapon as a baton as she cracked the nearest zombie’s skull open before flattening it with another blow as she raised the weapon about her head with both hands before bringing it down hard. Nearby screams caught her attention as she turned to see an officer with a zombie desperately trying to crack open his skull. Springing into action, Barbara ran forward, tackling the zombie off of the other officer. The creature squealed and struggled as Barbara slammed the butt of the gun down on its skull repeatedly until finally, it ceased to move.
Signing in momentary relief, Barbara stood again as she pillaged some ammunition off of a fallen officer, turning around to extend a hand to the deputy she had just saved. He gratefully accepted her hand as he began to stand. Suddenly his eyes widened as he fell backwards, Barbara spun around at the last second to duck as a ghost dove towards the pair.
As the deputy opened his mouth to scream again, the ghost entered into his body, its ethereal essence disappearing as the ghoul took possession of deputy’s body. Barbara watched in horror as he suddenly floated to his feet, his head turning directly around to look behind him as his eyes made contact with hers before he snapping his own neck, the sound of the bone breaking echoed across the parking lot.
Cocking her shotgun again, Barbara spit blood from her mouth on the ground as she addressed the possessed body.
“Well let’s go then,” She yelled, firing a round into the body’s chest. “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.”
Decaying flesh and bones cracked and split under the force of Thor’s fists as he fought back each member of the walking dead. The hungry horde had fallen upon the town faster than Thor could react and he was now faced with an overwhelming amount of foes. Storefronts were trashed as doors were broken open and windows smashed as the undead struggled and fought to get at those inside. Moving as fast as his mighty legs would carry him, Thor rushed from foe to foe, felling each with a single blow as he crushed their skulls between his powerful hands.
Static electricity hung heavily in the air as lightning blast after lightning blast assaulted the ethereal hosts swarming the skies above the small midwestern town. Their wails and cries creating a haunting, melancholy melody that echoed through the air. James Craddock, the Gentleman Ghost, cackled with delight as he watched the chaos swallow the town while Thor was too distracted to take notice of his attack. From within the tattered, billowing coat, he produced an antique flintlock pistol. Drawing back the hammer, Craddock took aim at Thor, pulling the trigger as a spectral bullet was let loose, piercing Thor’s shoulder as he cried out in pain, his head turning in time for him to avoid a second shot as Craddock swapped the first pistol for a second taking fire again.
Moving to attack, Thor found himself restrained as black tendrils wrapped themselves around his wrists, moving up his arms as his head spun to find the source of the attack. The woman, who had appeared alongside the Gentleman Ghost, was manipulating the shadows, creating a tangible threat out of the absence of light. Pain erupted in his abdomen as Craddock landed another shot, the tendrils wrapping their way around Thor’s neck as he continued to struggle.
“Not so terrible now are you, lad?” Craddock cackled, as he drew closer, smashing his cane against Thor’s skull as the Shadow Thief tightened her tendrils further around his neck.
“The chromedome said the price of freedom was your head on a platter as silver as his alien visage.” Craddock continued. “I just didn’t think it would be so easy.” He chortled victoriously as Thor snarled towards him.
“Then why-” Thor managed to say, “Did it take two of you?”
The upturned corners of Craddock suddenly went flat as he moved to strike Thor again only to be thrown backwards as a bolt of lightning struck him square on. Wrapping his hands around the tendrils, Thor managed to take ahold of them as he spun around, dragging the Shadow Thief along with him as he struggled in vain to break her hold.
Suddenly she screamed as a sword sliced through the shadows, breaking her hold on Thor as a large man pulled the blade back, spinning around as he found himself back to back with Thor, Craddock on one side of the pair, while the Shadow Thief regained her stance, standing on the opposite side of the pair.
THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA LOCAL TIME 1237 (EST)
Steve Rogers sat on the steps where not even a week prior, he had faced the ultimate test -- a test which thankfully he passed. As he sat, he shifted uncomfortably in his sling. He hadn't wanted to wear it, but the doctors at SHIELD had insisted. Thanks to Captain America's heroics, he was already facing the very real possibility of setbacks in his recovery. Steve wasn't worried. He had survived worse and though he was older now, slower to heal, the one thing he didn't lack for was time. The threat had passed, and he could recuperate for as long as he needed. What he would do after… even Steve could not yet say.
Footsteps approached, and somehow Steve already knew to whom they belonged. He glanced only briefly to see Diana Prince lowering herself down to sit beside him. There hadn't been many quiet moments between them, many chances to reconnect. Steve lamented that, just as he lamented letting such a long gap in their friendship to pass. He had kept intermittent touch with Jay and some of the others; why not her? Perhaps some part of him still carried that guilt for the role he played in her banishment from Themyscira. It had been her choice -- no one told Diana what to do -- but he felt responsible all the same. Perhaps he always would.
“They start to blend together after a while, don't they?” Steve began, squinting into the afternoon sun. “All the years, the fights, the scars… Does it ever get easier?”
Diana lowered her eyes. While looking at her feet, she answered softly, “No.” As she lifted her head, she looked out over the National Mall. In the distance, workers set to the task of repairing the damaged Washington Monument. The crowds had dwindled significantly, fearing another attack, but there were still some who came out to enjoy this late September day. Soon, the biting winds of autumn would be upon them, with the cold and snow to follow. For their sake, Diana hoped it would be a quiet winter. “But you find new reasons to fight,” she added, turning to consider Steve.
He sighed. “I don't know that I can, Diana. Not after all this time.” He looked to his friend and found an understanding gaze. It felt cheap to use this argument around Diana of all people, but Steve was no Amazon. He was only a man -- and a tired one at that. Still, he couldn't deny that this outing had awakened something long dormant in him, something he had almost forgotten was there. It gave him a purpose he would never find in Wyoming. Could he live with that?
Diana looked at him kindly. “So, what then?”
It was the question of the hour. Steve could only shrug. Scratching his beard with his good hand, he said, “I don't know. I guess I'll go home, rest up. Figure out what I want to do next.” He did have to admit that an evening in his recliner, watching baseball with Scout curled up at his feet? It sounded pretty nice. He considered Diana. “What about you?”
“The work goes on,” she answered, almost resigned. She leaned back on her palms. “Fury will be interrogating the Colonel soon. We'll find out who was backing the Liberators and take the fight to them. Then, there's the matter of Qurac. There will be those seeking to take advantage of the upheaval.” That sounded all too familiar. Given enough time, certain patterns started to emerge. Steve only hoped that SHIELD would handle it better the second time around. “We'll be sad to see you go,” Diana finished.
“Barton won't be,” Steve smirked.
“You intimidate him,” Diana admitted, “but I think deep down, he admires you.” A silence passed between them. Each of them knew that this would be their last conversation for a while, yet neither wanted to broach the topic of a goodbye. After a moment, Diana said, “I missed you, Steve. Perhaps I'll try to find time to visit you in Wyoming? You can take me hunting.”
Steve smiled. No, things weren't the same as they were in the forties, but that didn't mean everything had to change. Some friendships were timeless. “Anytime.”
SHIELD BLACK SITE LOCATION UNDISCLOSED LOCAL TIME ???
Abdul al-Rahman sat alone in the dark. He could hardly say whether he had been in this place for a day, a week, a year… Time lost all its meaning in this void of SHIELD's creation. With no windows or clock, there was no way to mark the passage of time except to count the seconds. He had tried, but the Americans’ penchant for disruption -- flashing strobe lights, pumping saccharine country music into the room, etc. -- made concentration all but impossible. He had no contact with anyone except the agent who came to bring him water, the barest offerings of food, and occasionally check his bandages. They were keeping him alive, but only by the strictest definition of the word.
The Colonel held strong. The Americans’ ploys were a child's idea of torture. He had truly suffered to pursue his vengeance; nothing SHIELD could do would ever rise to the level of making him uncomfortable. In a way, his stoicism in the face of their deliberate attempts was a last act of defiance. He would not give them the satisfaction of watching him break, the amusement at his discomfort. The only feature in the otherwise featureless room was the security camera perched on the ceiling. Abdul stared it down as if to say, “I will never be defeated.” It was more confident than he had any right to be, given the circumstances, but it was the one thing he could control in this place.
So it was that when the door opened on this day, the Colonel initially thought very little of it. He might not have even heard the footsteps over the deafening tones of “Proud to be an American" if not for his enhanced senses. It was only when the figure turned the corner, and Abdul realized that it was not his handler, that the Quraci took notice. The music stopped, and as the American with an eye patch took a seat opposite the Colonel, al-Rahman shifted in the restraints that bound him to his chair. He had never met this man, but he knew him all the same.
“Here's what's gonna happen,” Director Nick Fury began, leaning back in his seat, “You and I are gonna have a conversation about the missing years in your file. Where you went, what you did, who you met. That sort of thing. You're gonna paint me a picture. And with that picture, I'm gonna find the people who gave you your abilities. The people who bankrolled your little insurrection. The ones who gave you the schematics to the resonance generators, as well as the synthesized vibranium to power them.” He stared across the table. “And at the end of that conversation, we'll have a second one about what happens next for you.”
The Colonel said nothing. He allowed not even the slightest emotion to color his face. His phantom hand twitched.
If Director Fury thought anything of his silence, he pressed on anyway. “I know that you and your brother were picked up by a splinter group testing a new Super-Soldier serum. Who approached you? Where did they take you?” He waited for an answer he knew was not likely to come. “Obviously, your brother didn't make it. Were there other survivors, or just you?”
Abdul only blinked.
Fury scowled. “These people: were they the ones who supplied the Liberators’ tech, or did they put you in contact with another group?” he asked. “What did they promise you in return for attacking Washington?”
Though his mouth was dry, al-Rahman worked up enough saliva to turn his head and spit. He looked back at Fury, cold anger in his eyes.
The Director nodded in the direction of the bandages around al-Rahman's stump. “You want your arm back? SHIELD has a line on some of the best prosthesis experts in the world. You cooperate, and we can make you whole again,” he offered.
“I would rather die a cripple than help you,” the Colonel answered in a voice raspy from disuse.
Fury shrugged. “Fine by me. I didn't really want to waste taxpayer dollars on an upjumped little bastard like you, anyway.” He leaned in, putting his elbows on the table. “You wanna know the irony in all this? You wanted to show that Qurac was strong, that Qurac could run with the big dogs. But in the end, you needed to be propped up by a benefactor just to take your shot. That's weakness.”
The barb got under the Colonel's skin. In spite of himself, he said, “Your organization is a sham. You trade in intelligence, yet you know so little. You glimpse the serpent's tail and think you have the full measure of the beast? You know nothing of what they are.”
“Then enlighten me,” Fury answered.
“They are without faces or names. They wave no flags, swear no oaths. They are everywhere and nowhere. And you cannot hope to stop them.”
Fury ground his teeth. “I want a name.”
“They have but one name--”
Just then, the door to the room burst open. Both men turned to consider the intruder: the agent who had been assigned to guard this place. The Colonel recognized him for what he was right away. Director Fury, however, could not see it. Flaring with anger, Fury stood from the table and barked, “Stand down! This is an active interrogation!” The Colonel could only close his eyes.
A shot from the agent's pistol put Director Fury on the ground. Gasping for air, he could only watch, dumbfounded, as the agent crossed the room towards the prisoner. Abdul was whispering a prayer in Arabic. The agent raised his pistol again. “They warned you what would happen if you talked,” he admonished.
The Colonel's lifeless body fell to the floor. A pool of blood crept out from beneath his head. Director Fury felt the darkness closing in. As the agent's footsteps receded, Nick reached into his pocket. He found the transmitter not a moment too soon, as his vision began to fade.
THE MAYFLOWER HOTEL DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA LOCAL TIME 1523 (EST)
Steve stood at the entrance of the hotel, carrying his bag. A taxi was parked at the curb with its trunk open. SHIELD had offered to take him back on the Quinjet, but Steve had opted to fly the old-fashioned way. He was honestly looking forward to just being a normal passenger on a normal flight. Perhaps he'd pick up a book at the airport or watch one of those awful in-flight movies. If nothing else, it would give him the time and space to think about what he would do once he was home.
As Steve loaded up the taxi, he saw an unmarked SUV flying down the street. He knew right away that it was here for him. Closing the trunk, he walked over to the driver side window and told the driver, “Give me a minute.” The taxi driver shrugged, clearly in no hurry, and Steve stepped back onto the curb to greet the government vehicle which had just parked. As the passenger hopped out, Steve said, “What happened? I forget my toothbrush?”
“Captain Rogers, I've been ordered to bring you back to the Triskelion right away,” the agent reported. “Special Agent Bordeaux needs to see you.”
That got Steve's attention. Sasha was calling him back? “Special Agent Bordeaux?” he repeated. “Why not about Director Fury?” Even through the agent's sunglasses and trained expression, Steve could tell that question in particular struck a chord. Now starting to feel tense, Rogers asked, “Has something happened?”
The agent hesitated. “It's best if we wait until you're back at the Triskelion, sir.”
Steve nodded. Whatever this was, it was serious. Serious enough that Sasha rushed to stop him before he could get out of town. He walked back over to the taxi and tapped the trunk. The driver popped it open, and Steve retrieved his bag. As the taxi pulled away, Steve shouldered his bag over his good arm and followed the agent back to the SHIELD vehicle.
TEAM 7 BRIEFING ROOM THE TRISKELION LOCAL TIME 1547 (EST)
“Abdul al-Rahman is dead,” Special Agent Bordeaux reported from the podium where Director Fury gave his briefings. The room buzzed as Team 7 took in this news. Bordeaux continued before the speculation could spiral out of hand. “A rogue agent at the black site put a bullet in his head… and one in Director Fury's chest.”
That prompted an eruption.
“What?!” “Is Fury dead?” “Why would he do this?”
Bordeaux held up a hand to silence the group. “Director Fury has been moved to a secure facility for treatment. He is in critical condition, and his prognosis is unclear. The doctors were forced to put him in a medically-induced coma. Until such time as he recovers -- if he recovers -- Maria Hill is the Acting Director of SHIELD,” she explained.
“So, why have you called us?” Diana asked.
Bordeaux bit her lip. “Director Fury sent the distress signal to me. I was the first to arrive on the scene. And before the EMTs took him away, he… he said something to me. It was only one word.” She paused. “Hydra.”
Evidently, Steve was the only person in the room for whom that name carried no meaning. The rest of the group seemed to shift in their chairs at the sound of it. Sam Wilson let out a low whistle. Confused, Steve asked, “What's ‘Hydra?’"
“Hydra is Nick Fury's conspiracy theory,” Barton answered. “The story goes that there exists a secret cabal of bad guys who incite and manipulate global conflict towards some unknown, unseen end.”
“Supposedly, there are Hydra agents embedded in organizations around the world. Politicians, businessmen, celebrities… anyone with power or influence of any kind. Their network is so decentralized that they're impossible to trace,” Sam chimed in. “Or so the theory goes.”
“Of course, no one actually believes it,” Barton adds. “Everyone agrees that years of working in intelligence have made Nick a little jumpy. He's seeing patterns where none exist, making connections without a shred of solid evidence. And of course, not a single suspected Hydra agent who's been captured has ever avowed any knowledge of the organization.”
Barton rolled his eyes. “So, what, you're suggesting that not only does Hydra exist, they also have plants inside SHIELD, and one of those plants just put Nick Fury in a coma?”
Diana shrugged as if to accept the possibility.
“Regardless,” Agent Bordeaux called out, retaking control of the meeting, “our only lead rests with that agent. If he is in fact Hydra, then tracking him down could lead us to his cell. It could be our only chance to find them before they slither back into the shadows.”
“So, what's the problem?” Wilson asked.
“The problem is that Director Hill has issued a standing kill order on the rogue agent,” Bordeaux explained. “If someone else gets to him first, we lose our only lead and only hope at answers.”
Steve furrowed his brow. “Do you think Hill is complicit?”
Bordeaux shook her head. “No. No, Maria Hill is many things, but she's not a traitor,” she insisted with a high degree of confidence. “The only thing she's guilty of is wanting to close the book on the Liberators quickly. She doesn't want this business hanging over her head as she tries to lead SHIELD in Director Fury's absence. She never put much stock in the Hydra theory, anyway.”
“Nor has she been a fan of this task force,” Diana reminded everyone. It was true; Maria Hill did not share Nick Fury's optimism regarding the use of metahumans and Super-Soldiers. She saw Team 7 as a liability waiting to happen and would likely not prove as trusted an ally as Director Fury had.
“So, what is this, then?” Barton asked. “A meeting to discuss undermining the Acting Director of SHIELD by conducting an unsanctioned investigation into a clandestine organization that may not even exist? I got that all right?” No one could find room to correct him. Barton shrugged. “Yeah, fuck it. Hill never liked me, anyway.”
“If Barton's in, then you're definitely gonna need me,” Wilson quipped. Barton flicked a paper ball at his teammate's head in retaliation.
“What about you, Tatsu?” Bordeaux asked. “You've been quiet.”
The swordswoman thought a moment. “Director Fury deserves vengeance. Not just against the man who pulled the trigger but against the one who gave the order.” She nodded to herself. “I will join this fight.”
Bordeaux looked to Diana next. “My participation was never in doubt,” the Amazon answered. She turned in her chair, looking up at Steve who had been sitting with his chin in his hands. “Steve? I know you believed the fight was done, but we could use you still.”
Rogers weighed everything he had just heard. Finally, arriving at a decision, he leaned back and looked at the team. “Nick Fury is a friend; and in matters of espionage, he's one of the smartest men I know. If he believed that Hydra is real, then I know it is.” He clenched his fist, feeling the sling strain against his shoulder. “People like this think they can operate in the shadows, that they can divorce themselves from the consequences of their actions. They think they're above justice. Well, maybe the law can't reach them… but we can.” He looked at Tatsu. “How did you put it? Nick Fury has to be avenged?”
SOMETIMES I THINK IT'S PRETTY APPROPRIATE THAT OUR BOY CURRENTLY SINKING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE RIVER WAS RAISED BY A FARMER. AND I DON'T MEAN BECAUSE IT GIVES HIM THAT PLUCKY, NORMAN ROCKWELL, SALT-OF-THE-EARTH, CAN-DO AMERICAN SPIRIT. I MEAN BECAUSE IT'S PRETTY INDICATIVE OF WHAT HE DOES TO YOU.
SEE, THE EXTERNAL INTELLIGENCES, THE THOUGHT-FORMS AND ANIMATE CONCEPTS YOU CALL 'GODS' AND 'DEMONS' AND WHATNOT, THEY ONLY HAVE A COUPLE OF REASONS TO LOWER THEMSELVES BY COMING TO THESE MOTES OF DUST POPULATED BY SHAMBLING MEAT-THINGS. THERE ARE THINGS THAT PREY DIRECTLY ON THE PSYCHIC ECHOES GENERATED BY SUFFICIENTLY SENTIENT BIO-MASS-- THAT'D BE YOUR 'SOUL' IF YOU'RE THE RELIGIOUS TYPE-- AND THEY FIND WAYS TO WRENCH THEM OUT OF YOU. TYPICALLY PAIN OR VICE ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHODS, BUT YEAH, IF YOUR SOUL IS A RICH GOLDEN STALK OF WHEAT, THEN YOUR AVERAGE GOAT-HORNED IMP OR NAMELESS HORROR WITH MORE TENTACLES THAN BRAINS ARE THE MURDER OF CROWS CIRCLING AROUND TO PECK AT IT.
ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU'VE GOT YOUR GUARDIAN ANGELS, YOUR DEVAS AND SPIRIT GUIDES, THE BENEVOLENT POWERS-ON-HIGH THAT KEEP THE THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT AT BAY. THEY PROTECT YOU, AND ANSWER YOUR PRAYERS, AND ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IN RETURN IS FOLLOW THE RULES THEY HAND YOU IN A LITTLE BLACK BOOK. WHY DO YOU THINK THEY DO THIS? DOES THE FARMER SCARE AWAY THE CROWS AND GAS THE INSECTS AND SHOOT AT RABBITS WITH A SHOTGUN BECAUSE HE LOVES HIS WHEAT FIELDS? YOU THINK HE WANTS TO HAVE A DEEP, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CORN AND HIS CARROTS? YOU THINK HE HAS A SPECIAL PLAN FOR HIS POTATOES BEYOND 'GROW AND EAT THEM?'
GOD DOESN'T LOVE YOU, YOU CHUMPS. GOD FARMS YOU.
WHICH BRINGS ME TO OUR LITTLE BOY BLUE, AND ALL OF THE JOHNNY-COME-LATELYS THAT SPRUNG UP IN HIS WAKE. EVERY SO OFTEN I SEE YOU NERDS GO ON ABOUT HOW THEY'RE THE NEW 'PANTHEON,' THE GODS AND MONSTERS OF MYTH FOR THE MODERN TIMES, SYMBOLS OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE AND HOPE AND FREEDOM AND YADDA-YADDA-YADDA. IT'S SUCH EASY RELIGION, TOO. NO COMMANDMENTS, NO DOGMA, NOBODY GETTING NAILED TO ANYTHING OR BLOWING EACH OTHER UP OVER A THEOLOGICAL DETAIL, THE ONLY SECTS BEING DERIVED FROM BRAND LOYALTY. AND THE ONLY PRAYER THEY HAVE TO ANSWER IS THAT THEIR STORIES ENTERTAIN YOU AND GIVE YOU ALL-THE-FEELS.
EVEN THEN, THE SUPER-FOLKS ARE FARMING YOU. THEY TAKE FROM YOU YOUR TIME AND THOUGHT, FUNNEL YOUR CREATIVITY INTO A STAGNANT AND FORMULAIC GENRE. THEY TAKE YOUR MONEY AS TITHES, WHETHER IT'S FIVE BUCKS FOR A FEW SHEETS OF PAPER--HALF OF WHICH END UP BEING ADS-- OR A FEW MORE FOR A TICKET TO WATCH A SOULLESS BILLION-DOLLAR CORPORATION TELL THE SAME STORY FOR THE TWENTIETH TIME IN A ROW. AND THAT'S NOT GOING INTO THE ACTORS AND DIRECTORS WHOSE CAREERS ARE SACRIFICED ON THE ALTAR OF SPANDEX, TO BE KNOWN FOREVER FOR THEIR TIME RUNNING AROUND IN THEIR PAJAMAS. IT MAY LOOK LIKE THEIR MOUNTAINS OF TECHNICOLOR MERCHANDISE FORM A MONUMENT TO THE GREATER GOD OF COMMERCE, BUT THAT DOESN'T ACCOUNT FOR THE LOSERS AND FREAKS WHO TOIL AWAY MAKING THIS STUFF FOR FREE. JUST BY READING THESE WORDS, YOU'RE EKING OUT A FEW DROPS OF THAT SWEET IDEA-JUICE INTO THEIR BUCKETS. AND LIKE ANY THOUGHT-FORM ADOPTED BY THE MASSES, THEY WILL LIVE ON FOR GENERATIONS, HARVESTING THE CROPS THEY'VE SOWN IN THE MINDS OF CHILDREN.....AND OF FAT PATHETIC MAN-CHILDREN WHO THINK THEY'RE BEING MORE CLEVER THAN THEY REALLY ARE.
ANYWAY, POINT BEING: SUPERMAN IS A FARMER. AND YOUR BRAINS ARE HIS CROPS.
SPEAKING OF BRAINS, DID YOU KNOW THAT NEW STUDIES CLAIM THAT ELECTROSHOCK THERAPY CAN CAUSE SEVERE CASES OF MEMORY LOSS, CONFUSION, AND HEIGHTENED STATES OF AGGRESSION? AND THE BOY SCOUT JUST TOOK A FEW MILLION VOLTS RIGHT ACROSS THE FRONTAL LOBE. LEMME TELL YA, HE IS GONNA BE PIIIIIIISSSED WHEN HE WAKES UP, AND HE'S NOT GONNA KNOW WHY.
OH HEY, LOOKS LIKE HE'S COMING UP TO THE SURFACE. I'D BETTER DUCK OUT BEFORE HE SPOTS ME-- YOU NEVER KNOW JUST HOW MUCH OF THE SPECTRUM THAT X-RAY VISION OF HIS CAN ACTUALLY SEE, AFTER ALL.
Ben Grimm’s body tensed with anger as he stepped into Reed’s laboratory and laid eyes on Hector Hammond. There was a look of contempt on the villain’s face – as if he resented breathing the same air as someone he considered so beneath him. Ben’s blue eyes searched the lab for Johnny, Reed, Sue and Wells. They were still alive. Deep in the same sleep that Ben had been locked in whilst body had wrought carnage on Guy Gardner’s face.
Now it was Hammond’s turn. The Thing’s hands balled into fists as he prepared to unleash his accumulated rage on Hammond’s over-sized head. He made it all of two steps before finding his feet planted firmly to the ground.
~You’re a monster, Grimm. You must know by now that they’ll never accept you. You’ve seen the way they look at you. And yet you’re still so desperate for their acceptance, aren’t you? It’s tragic.~
There was nothing Hammond could say about the way Ben looked that he’d not heard before – or thought himself. His skin had been thick long before they’d been bombarded by cosmic rays. Growing up on Yancy Street would do that for you.
Ben gritted his teeth as he strained against Hammond’s telekinesis. He felt like he had a dreadnought pinning his feet to the ground. Every sinew in his body strained against the weight and slowly his foot lifted and he took another step towards Hammond.
~You can’t believe you can beat me.~
The second step came easier than the first and a knowing smile appeared on Ben’s face. “I don’t believe I can beat you, Hector, I know I can.”
He could see the sickly veins on the villain’s forehead bulging with effort. It was taking Hammond every bit as much strength to hold him back – and Ben had never once been beaten in a test of strength before. Except that one time against the Hulk that he’d sworn the others to secrecy about. With each laborious step he took, Ben felt Hammond’s hold over him weakening.
“And once I’m done beating you, I’m going to beat you again, and again, and again, until the thought of seeing my ugly mug again makes you break out in hives.”
Shock flashed across Hammond’s face. His brow furrowed, beads of sweat falling from it freely, as he tried to hold Ben back. The two were locked not only in a physical tug-of-war but a mental one. As his control slipped, Ben could feel Hammond’s will wavering, and as he drew within reach of the villain, Grimm could almost feel the fear in the air.
~No! What is happening?! This isn’t possible. You’re not strong enough to resist me – no-one is. You will submit to my control. You must.~
Ben shot Hammond a wicked smile. “I ain’t gotta do nothing, freakazoid.”
He sent one of his fists swinging towards Hammond’s head. At the last moment the villain erected a shield between the two of them. It absorbed most of Ben’s blow but not all of it. The impact of the punch sent Hammond flying backwards into the craft at the centre of the room. Ben pursued him, carefully stepping over his friends as he went, angrily lowering his fists at Hammond. Again another shield caught the brunt of the damage – at least of the first volley.
On the second volley Hammond’s shield faltered. There were visible cracks running through it and the panic on the villain’s face increased tenfold. He tried in vain to erect another layer of protection but Ben’s fists were flying towards him too quick. The blow sent Hammond crashing across the room.
~You… y-you struck me!~
Hammond’s voice was thick with shock. Polluted-looking blood seeped from his nose and into his mouth. He was unable to wipe the blood away with his arms, immobile as they were, instead opting to clean the lower portion of his face with a long swipe of his tongue.
“Oh, believe me, I’m just getting started, Hammond.”
Ben leapt through the air towards the wounded villain. Perhaps he overestimated the extent of the damage done – or underestimated the power cosmic Hammond had been imbued with – because a devastating burst of energy came flying towards him the second he left his feet.
Had he not know better, Ben would have thought he was bleeding. He lifted a hand to his face and touched the side the blast had hit. It was glowing hot – or at least it felt it. Ben glanced towards the reflective coating of the craft and noticed the area around his eyebrow had been blasted away, revealing a pinkish texture that resembled flesh beneath it.
~You’ll pay for laying your hands on me, you disgusting creature. I’ll make you wish you were never born. Do you understand me? No-one touches Hector Hammond. No-one!~
Suddenly Ben felt Hammond’s tendrils digging deep into his brain again. Gone was the surgical precision the villain had exercised before, replaced instead by reckless, wild tearing. Every second that Hammond snatched through his thoughts, Ben could feel cherished memories of his slipping from his mind. He fell to his knees in agony, clutching his head, as Hammond hovered towards him.
~What’s this? There is love here. Could it be? Did you convince a woman to care for you, creature? To look past that horrid exterior? No, that couldn’t possibly be true. What woman could bring herself to love such a thing?~
Ben clutched tighter at his head, trying desperately to think of anything but Alicia Masters, for fear of his memories of the only woman to hold him, to kiss him, since his transformation being erased. Yet the more he tried to fight the impulse, the more difficult it became. He thought of evenings in fall spent walking through Central Park with Alicia on his arm. The way her hair smelled.
~A blind woman? How quaint. Did she know what you were? Would she have loved you if she could see how grotesque you truly are?~
“Guess it’s been a while since you looked in the mirror,” Ben murmured. “You’re not gonna be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon.”
The comment seemed to anger Hammond. His face curled with spite and his assault on Ben’s mind was renewed. This time the face of Petunia Grimm, Ben’s beloved aunt, was dredged forcibly to the front of his mind. All the life and warmth he had known her for had gone. Her skin was near translucent and her once beautiful hair waifish. What remained of the Grimm clan was assembled around her hospital bed.
“Get out of my head, you creep.”
Hector cackled as he pulled the thread further still. Now Ben saw himself stood alone over Petunia’s grave. The rain had soaked his beige trench coat through and a handful of drenched flowers hung by his side. He removed his hat, revealing the rocky face hidden beneath it, and stared down at the grave. He was alone.
~That’s right. Your aunt, the blind woman, your so-called “friends”, they’ll all leave you eventually, Grimm. Once their pity fades, when the guilt they feel looking into your face begins to wear on them too heavily, they’ll discard you. And you’ll be on your own – forever.~
No, that wasn’t right. Ben tried his best to block out Hammond’s voice. He focused on the pain the memory caused him, used to help him search through his mind for the truth – and then he remembered. A hand on his shoulder in the rain. Reed had been with him. As had Johnny and Sue. He wasn’t alone, he’d never be alone, as long as he had them.
Hector Hammond screaming dragged Ben back to the real world. His famous blue eyes widened as he saw Hammond engulfed in flames. The villain was desperately spinning in an attempt to extinguish them.
“You know, I never thought we’d bump heads with someone that loved the sound of their own voice more than Doom. Guess I was wrong.”
Johnny smiled at Ben and offered him a hand up. Ben took it gratefully and climbed to his feet. Behind him, Ben saw Reed, Sue and Wells waking from the sleep Hammond had sunk them in. Something was happening, Grimm deduced. Maybe Hammond’s connection to the power cosmic was weakening.
“Your face,” Sue muttered as she joined her brother by Ben’s side. “What happened? Are you okay? You’ve never been cut like that before.”
Ben shook his head abruptly.
“I’m fine, Suzie. Harrison, you need’ta get out of here. This guy’s dangerous. Grab whatever medical supplies you can get your hands on and get out to the lobby, you hear me? Guy’s hurt bad. I don’t know if he’s going to pull through.”
Without argument, Harrison Wells sprinted out of the laboratory and left Ben, Johnny, Reed, and Sue huddled in the centre of the room. Hammond finally managed to put Johnny’s flames out and hovered back towards them. His repulsive face was now singed and blistered. He looked the Fantastic Four up and down judgmentally and let out a sickening laugh.
~How touching. The happy family back together a-~
Hammond was cut short by another fireball hitting him squarely in the face. It hadn’t been enough to set him alight but it clearly staggered him. Johnny smiled proudly and prepared another fireball as he watched his teammates sprinting in to battle.
“Oh no, no more monologues, egghead. You wanted the Fantastic Four's attention – you got it. Now prepare to get your ass handed to you.”
The re-appearance of Spider-Woman wasn't expected, but Bekka was at the very least relieved that she had returned so quickly. The idea that the damage the office building-sized supervillain had done could be contained in a matter of minutes meant that Bekka had discovered Giganta's attack on New York right as it was beginning and had arrived in a timely fashion. Millions of property damage aside, the loss of life was something that she didn’t need to stress over. Though she imagined her toughest critics would blame her for not dealing with Giganta before she had a chance to attack another city simply due to the mass panic and collateral damage that had been resulted from her not putting down Giganta for good in Gateway City. But such as she did in Gateway City she would ignore the words of mortal “journalists” and “reporters”. She declared herself as a protector for a myriad of reasons, but none of them ever made her believe she was beholden to their questions and determinations.
"Come on, ladies. Let's finish this. I have some fun to have after I kill you." Giganta uttered as Spider-Woman caused the shape-changing thief to stumble backward.
“That's pretty confident for a woman who is about to lose. Maybe we can have that fun while you are licking your wounds in prison. If you want to tell us about it.”
Giganta groaned, her eyes remaining on Spider-Woman as she decided to ignore the taunts from her recurring foe. “I think I’ll kill you first. I’ll make sure it is the most painful experience of your life.”
Before Bekka knew it, she was in a situation where Giganta’s patience had dried up and if their last fight was anything to go by it was when she started getting sloppy. In that last occurence, Gateway City's Museum of Fine Art had lost nearly all of its west wing in the scuffle and that wasn’t including the damage to the surrounding structures. Even with Spider-Woman directing the giantess toward a park of some sort, Bekka’s immediate concern outside of Spider-Woman’s life was how much damage the next few minutes of their fight was going to cost them.
Bekka’s brows narrowed as Giganta charged Spider-Woman.
She knew she didn’t need to tell one of the protector’s of New York City to look out for Giganta’s strikes, it didn’t take a tactical genius to recognize Giganta had no idea how to fight outside of throwing her fists and stomping her feet. At the very least with Giganta seeing red because a spider kicked them in the face Bekka could utilize the metahuman’s rage as a tactical advantage and distraction. And being focused on wanting to remove a human being's limbs piece-by-piece was a very capable distraction.
Bekka cut through the air, rotating around the rampaging metahuman as she chased her prey through Central Park. Based on how Spider-Woman was zipping around from tree-to-tree, Bekka was admittedly impressed at her ability to evade an enemy with such precision and calculated tactics.
Alright, Bekka. All your strength into one calculated blow to bring down the rampaging giant. No lethal strikes.
In a few minutes she would slam her entire body into Giganta's left leg as her right leg rose in an attempt to stomp on Spider-Woman.
Let her fall on her ass. Spin around and slam into her stomach. Finish it off with a concussive strike.
When Giganta had landed hard on the ground she would levitate through the air before slamming down into her stomach with her body like a missile and then make a final concussive blow to finish off the fight.
Let Spider-Woman spin her restraints. Go out for Pizza. Call it a day.
W E D N E S D A Y, A U G U S T 0 8T H, 2 0 1 8 - 1 2 : 5 1 p m | D O W N T O W N
There was an overwhelming sense of familiarity that came with fighting back to back with Heimdall as memories of his childhood best friend came flooding back to Thor as the pair kept the Gentleman Ghost and the Shadow Thief at bay. It was far from the first time the pair had faced a horde of foes together and it felt natural as they quickly fell back into rhythm with one another. Alternating between their two foes, Thor and Heimdall kept Craddock and his ally from landing any further blows against the two Asgardians as they parried and avoided each attempt.
Suddenly, Craddock disappeared from sight, catching Thor off guard before suddenly he was thrown across the street. Set upon by Craddock’s zombies, Thor was forced to fight them off as Heimdall defended himself from the Shadow Thief and Gentleman Ghost.
Despite being invisible to Thor, nothing could hide from Heimdall’s sight as he drove his blade through Craddock’s chest. The Gentleman Ghost faltering for the briefest of seconds before he began laughing as he took ahold of Hofund and pulled the blade even deeper into his chest.
“That won’t be enough to stop me, lad.” He chortled as Heimdall struggled to pull the blade back. From behind him, the Shadow Thief lashed out, her tendrils wrapping themselves around the older Asgardian as he was separated from his weapon.
“Kill him.” Craddock ordered as the tendrils tightened around Craddock. Lightning flashed across the sky as it exploded towards the ground freeing Thor from the swarming undead, their bodies thrown every which way as he sprung forth from beneath them. Taking a hold of Hofund, Craddock suddenly cried out in pain as the weapon touched the hands of the Prince of Asgard.
“N-n-no-” The words barely had time to make it out of his mouth as Thor draw the sword, the weapon slicing Craddock clean in half as he was powerless to defend himself against one bearing noble blood. Banished from this plane by his defeat, Craddock suddenly disappeared as his armies suddenly ceased to move. Pulled back into the ground from whence they came, Thor turned towards the Shadow Thief as he brandished Hofund in his hands. The former assassin faltering for the second Thor needed to free Heimdall.
Raising her hands, she knelt before Thor speaking for the first time during their entire encounter, her accent indicating she wasn’t of America as she asked the God of Thunder to spare her life.
“I submit, return me to my cell.”
The shotgun blast had no visible effect as the possessed body dove towards Barbara, grabbing her by the shoulders of her vest as she found herself lifted into the air, the shotgun falling from her grasp. Glass exploded around her head as the ghost smashed her through the stained window of a nearby church, blood dotting her blonde hair as the pair crashed into the aged, wooden pews. The wind escaped Barbara’s lungs and she swore she had heard a crack from her ribcage as she gasped for air, tumbling along the floor of St. Hillan’s.
Rolling onto her knees, Barbara wiped blood from a freshly fattened lip as she quickly pulled her side arm, slotting a pillaged cartridge into the weapon as she capped the possessed body’s knees. A sound that could only be described as the ghost laughing at her emerged from the body’s broken windpipe as it simply floated back into the air. Rolling her eyes, Barbara ran for the doors, leading with her shoulder as the large wooden double doors flew open as Barbara found herself in the graveyard surrounding the old cathedral.
The ghost possessed body gave chase as it flew after Barbara. Its hands clawed at her hair as she cried out in pain, fighting back at the body as it firmly took hold of her shoulders again, lifting her into the air as Barbara felt her back slam against the side of the church as she was dragged against the coarse stone exterior. Pulled upwards, the edge of the roof caught the top of her head as pain temporarily blinded Barbara before anger kicked in, boosting her adrenaline as she brought her legs up and pushed with all her might.
Breaking free of the shade’s grip, Barbara fell against the sloped roof, her fingers scrambling for something to hold onto as the shingles tore at her skin, breaking several nails before she finally found a hold. She gasped in pain as the entire weight of her body pulled on her shoulder, her arm feeling as though it just dislocated as Barbara slowly pulled herself back up. Her feet scrambled to find a something to brace again before taking a hold of the aged eavestrough, the metal bending as it warped beneath her weight. Crawling up the sloped roof, Barbara saw the ghost turn around, as it flew towards her for another round.
Rolling off of her stomach, Barbara lifted herself onto her palms, firmly planting her feet before launching off of the roof as she tackled the ghost midair. The spirit cried out from within its mortal shell as Barbara fought to manipulate its flight course. Suddenly she let go, dropping back to the roof below as the ghost turned its attention too late to avoid the antique weathervane atop the cathedral roof.
A horrible scream filled the air as the body ceased to move, the weathervane piercing its torse. The cold iron dissipating the ethereal host within as Barbara sighed in relief. Allowing herself to fall back against the roof as she looked overhead at the clearing skies. Sitting up so as to look below, she watched in amazement as the remaining spirits suddenly disappeared into the ground, accompanying their undead allies as they too returned to their rest.
'Behind you?' Jaime was taken aback in that brief moment when an ordinary man in a cowboy chaps told Jaime to stand behind him. Jaime, the one wearing the alien power armor, needed to be protected by the guy with a pair of six shooters. The cowboy was brave, there was no denying that, but Reyes couldn't help but think he might have a screw or two loose underneath that ten gallon hat of his.
Reyes stepped forward to stand beside his defender as he went to confront the stranger. Everything about the giant of a man painted him as a metahuman- no one was naturally that large, and the black spandex wasn't exactly ordinary attire for the ordinary man. He had to have powers. But that begged the question, then: what was he doing here? Jaime's first assumption was that he was working for Dr. Caulder and he'd come to secure the Scarab, but that didn't make any sense. Caulder had just disposed of him; why would he have a change of heart so quickly? Of course, there was a possibility that falling through that portal had taken much, much longer than Jaime had first assumed...
His assumptions were thrown out the window when the figure addressed the 'vigilante.' Of all the things Jaime could be called, that certainly wasn't one of them- which meant that 'Black Star' was here for the Texan.
"Wait- the Silver Surfer-" A thousand questions raced through his mind as the Black Star spoke of the other alien, but Jaime wasn't able to get another word out before the metahuman disappeared from his vision in a blur of midnight fabric, only to reappear several meters away underneath the shade of a nearby porch. He tore one of the support beams from the wood with the same ease that a child might take apart a Lego set, sending the beam flying through the air like a spear aimed right for Reyes's heart. So dumbstruck by what was going on and unprepared for the sudden burst of speed, Reyes would've been impaled on it if not for the hands that threw him out of the way of the incoming projectile.
The roar of gunfire mingled with the sound of splintering wood as Jaime pushed himself up to his feet, every part of his body crying out in agony. He hadn't taken even a moment's rest since his last fight, and with the strength and speed this 'Black Star' seemed to possess, this was shaping up to be even more difficult than his duel with Otto and Caulder. The protesting, sharp pain in his muscles went ignored; he couldn't just sit back and let this 'Vigilante' be torn apart by a guy who was clearly out of his league. Maybe Black Star was out of Reyes's league too. He wouldn't doubt it. But Jaime wasn't about to turn tail and let a total stranger die alone.
He'd left too many bodies behind him already.
"Unless you've got a hand grenade in that belt, I think you might need my help!" Chunks of concrete and wood soared through the air, punching holes in the barn behind them like a pen pressed through a sheet of paper. The only thing keeping the two of them from being punctured through with equal force was the makeshift smokescreen Vigilante had managed to kick up with that whip of his, but it wasn't going to last. "This guy's a bit above our weight class- we're gonna need a plan!"
'Not compatible. Eliminate with extreme prejudice.' The voice of the Scarab snarled once more, it's words echoing deep in Reyes's mind. He felt strongly compelled to follow the 'suggestion,' his right arm already morphing to form the deadly energy weapon he'd used to eliminate the German surgeon back in Caulder's prison camp. Reyes didn't particularly want to use that kind of force against anyone, but this guy...he was next level. There was no holding back if Jaime wanted to walk away from this without any casualties among the townsfolk that had- surprisingly- yet to rear their heads.
"Yeah, not helping. You get any better ideas other than 'kill him'?" Reyes shot back. For a thousand year old parasite packing so many weapons and tools, it didn't seem all that forthcoming with ways to use them. Most of it's suggestions tended to be something along the lines of 'just kill them' or 'maim and cripple.'
'Not compatible. Target possesses enhanced strength and speed. Surrounded by unknown energy. Not compatible.'
Reyes stood to his feet, lifting his cannon to fire off several blasts in the general direction of where he'd last seen Black Star. "I got it! Not compatible! Dios mío you're useless. What does that even mean?!"
'Not compatible.' It repeated in that same angry tone it had taken since the metahuman first appeared. Jaime was getting real tired of hearing it.
"Great. Just great. My psychotic Jiminy Cricket comes with an error message. Terrific." With the smoke beginning to clear and Jaime being able to make out that black costume of their adversary once again, he realized that they didn't have any time left. Black Star was going to break them apart the moment he spotted them among the cloud. Reyes might be able to take that kind of punishment, but Vigilante? Unless he had some kind of secret superpower he was hiding, he was just a normal man with some very abnormal enemies. Jaime needed to do something to keep Black Star from taking his life.
So, in all of his teenage brilliance, he decided there was only one thing he could do.
He rushed Black Star.
Both of the Scarab's talons drawn, he let the engines on his back flare to life as he leapt through the air to quickly cover the distance between himself and their black clad foe. He had little control over his flight, but he could stabilize enough to simply shoot in a straight line right for Black Star like a less-than-human ballistic missile. Both blades held out before him, he could only hope that the super villain wasn't as durable as he was strong.
Iris was knocked against the wall as the one on her left exploded. Coulson was also slammed against the wall, grunting before going limp and falling upon the ground. No metahuman gene to help him deal with the blow obviously. The heat was unbearable as a figure walked through the flame. Mick Rory walked through untouched. When she had faced him before, he had been but a man. Thanks to the Surfer, he was something more. Power flowing through him, a furnace embedded in his chest. Iris knew she had to do something, and so far nothing had worked. She could barely land a blow against him
Pushing herself to her feet Iris ran straight at him, her suit starting to heat up and burn due to the increased heat. Rory in the face repeatedly, Iris continued to circle around Rory as he tried to fend off her assault in vain. He couldn’t, as she moved faster than he could even think. Suddenly she felt the heat build up in it’s ferocity, her hair starting to singe. Iris pulled away slightly Mick screamed. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS-!”
Flame erupted from all his limbs, fearful for what was about to happen she turned away from him. Moving over to Coulson and grabbing his limp body. Cradling him in her arms, and once again wishing beyond belief that she had been hit by the strength equivalent of a bolt of lightning. She was really going to have to change her exercise routine, all the running was well and good but with how often she had to carry people it was getting a bit ridiculous.
Iris turned, running away from the source of trouble. Sweat pouring down her forehead, the heat coming off her foe at this point was beyond imaginable.
“-HEATWAVE!” An explosion rocked the street behind her. She had been awake for a grand total of maybe fifteen minutes, and in that time at least four streets had exploded. The explosion buffeted her a little bit but she pushed on, placing Coulson lying against a wall at the end of the street. Firefighters ran between buildings as police cordoned off the area, obviously unsure on how to approach the situation. Iris turned to walk down the street. Her body still ached from her bout against Zoom. Her entire body felt the effects of the heat, while her suit was built to be resistant to heat she was currently pushing it to its limits.
“This isn’t you. This is the power that’s been forced into your body.” Iris spoke as she walked towards him, she saw him limping now. Whatever weapon that had been infused with him obviously didn’t take into account the level of rage that Heatwave represented. He screamed as he fired a blast of fire towards her, she could see the skin begin to blister and peel. In damaging the weapon it had removed his imperviousness to fire.
Iris dodged the blast with ease. “Mick, the weapon is damaging you. It’s going to kill you, let me help.”
She ducked as a wave passed right over her head. “YOU DID THIS! YOU DID THIS TO ME!”
Iris sighed as she ran straight at him, closing her eyes as a blast of fire approached her. Allowing her body to become out of phase as she focused on the vibrations of the air, the vibrational energy of the fire. She still felt it burn through her, it took every minute amount of self control to stop herself from convulsing into a little ball as her insides burned. Screaming due to the exertion it required she passed her hand straight into the furnace in his chest.
Her hand burned as she vibrated it within the furnace attached to Heatwaves body. They both screamed in pain. Grabbing onto the furnace she had her hand become solid again, before bringing it out of phase with her. Pulling it from his body, the straps tearing off from his skin and the fire in his eyes began to flicker out. Heatwaves eyes rolled back in his head as he fell backwards as Iris pulled the furnace free. As soon as it was free from his body it fell to pieces on the ground as she fell to her knees panting. She heard footsteps running towards her as S.H.I.E.L.D agents crowded Rory, weapons aimed at him. Despite him being unconscious they swiftly rolled him over and restrained him, before lifting him away. Iris grabbed one of the agents by the hand.
The agent stopped. “Excuse me?”
“He goes to Iron Heights.” The agent looked over at Coulson, who had regained his footing and was making his way over to them slowly. Coulson nodded.
“Right away Ma’am.”
“You know it’s not over, right?” Iris turned to face Coulson as he spoke, a look of sympathy crossed his face for a moment before he regained his composure. She must look as bad as she felt. “If he was really powered up by, and sent here by the Silver Surfer then that means-”
Iris pushed herself to her feet, groaning as she did so. “-That means he’s on the loose again and needs to be stopped. I know.” She turned to face Coulson, offering him the most reassuring smile she could muster in her present condition. “I’ve done it before, I can do it again.” She turned to head off towards New York City, before she did so Coulson grabbed her arm. She tried not to wince as his hand clasped around her, she wasn’t looking forward to taking the costume off as if that small gesture was any indication her body was going to be covered in burns.
“Get help. Don’t do it alone.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a friend in New York.” In a flash of light, and a rush of air she was gone. Leaving Coulson standing there with a concerned look on his face.
I'm frozen in my tracks after dodging one of the giant's strikes as Wonder Woman leaps into action. The raw strength, speed, and agility are sights to behold. The giantess doesn't stand a chance. After a series of devestating strikes, she falls back to the grass of Central Park, leaving Wonder Woman standing triumphantly catching her breath as autumn leaves swirl around her. She really does kickass. I ponder whether she can teach me the fighting techniques Dad said I need to learn, at least until she turns around and looks my way, motioning towards our fallen foe.
The hint snaps me out of my own head and I waste no time. Swinging from treet to tree over the giant criminal, I basically cocoon her in enough webbing to stop a 747 in its tracks. She's already shown that she can free herself from the webbing, but hopefully the amount I've used, as well as the fact that she's unconcious, means she'll stay put until she's picked up.
If she can be picked up.
Wait, who do I call when someone like this shows up? I know the Raft is near New York, and they can handle super powered inmates, but who takes them there.
I look up at Wonder Woman as I land next to her. As I change out my web cartridges, ensuring I have enough in case some other villain pops up, I ask, "So...uh...I'm gonna be honest. One, that was badass. Two, this is the first time I've ever really caught someone with super powers. What do we do now?"
"We wait for SHIELD to show up and take her back to the Raft," Wonder Woman responds. "And maybe get some pizza. I have always heard of the pizza from New York."
SHIELD. I've heard the name before. I know they're like the FBI for super powered cases. Almost like the men in black. They show up, and people pretend it never happened. Even if I am the daughter of a cop, I've never been a fan of the power structure. Dad and I have had more fights than I can count over law enforcement over reach, so SHIELD isn't exactly the kind of people I'm excited to meet face-to-face.
Wait, she said Giganta was on the Raft before today? That means whoever sent her is probably still there. Which means there might be a hell of a lot more super villains in line to escape and try and kill us.
"I think pizza may have to wait," I respond. "Giganta said she was sent here to kill me. If that's the case, someone broke her out of the Raft. That person might still be there. And if that's the case, our day probably isn't done."
Grabbing her hand, I make my way to the nearest news stand. The clerk, seemingly oblivious to the fight we just had with a giant woman, is transfixed by the small TV he has inside the booth. There, I can see a grainy, black and white view of the Raft as smoke billows from it. Whoever had sent Giganta definitely did a number on the supermax prison.
"We need to get to the Raft," I say to Wonder Woman. "Whoever sent her is going to send more. I think that much is clear. They want us dead. Just because we beat one of their footsoldiers doesn't mean there won't be more. They'll just keep sending them until we're too tired to fight."
"Say no more," Wonder Woman replies and begins a trek back towards where this fight started. When we reach where she appeared, she pulls her sword out of the pavement. In a matter of seconds, another one of those portals opens up in front of us. She steps into it and motions for me to follow.
"God my life is strange," I mutter to myself as I do. The sensation of literally being thrown through space, at least that's what I figure is happening, follows. Before I know what's happening, I'm back in regular space, and crash down onto the deck of the Raft. My head spins like I just got locked in the washer. I pull my mask up to my nose and vomit up part of my lunch. "Oh I never want to do that again."
"Yes, I'm sorry," Wonder Woman smiles sympathetically. "I forgot how disorienting that can be for your kind."
"I'm alright," I recover the bottom half of my face and wish I really had some gum right now. "I do have a super sense of balance. Might have made whatever that was worse for me. Now, let's go find us a big bad."
I hope my words betray a confidence that isn't there. Whoever attacked the Raft is powerful. This is possibly the most secure location in the world, protected by the shadow-iest shadow agency in the world. If the person we're looking for took it without much of a problem and teleported Giganta into the middle of the city, I don't know if the two of us are going to be enough.
Slowly, though, I start to feel patches of sensation again. Half-remembered bursts of pain. An angry, agonizing buzzing all around. A desperate dive into the water to drown the lightning in my head. A descent into darkness, consciousness slipping away.
I feel an icy wave slap across my face, and I realize I'm not dead.
I'm floating on my back in the Hob's River, drifting out towards the ocean. Memory's still hazy, but I remember bits and pieces. Livewire attacked the city, trying to pick a fight with me. She tried to fry my brain from inside, and I countered by shorting her out in the river. She must have....dissipated after that. Given that her physical body is made of non-solid electrical plasma, I doubt she's actually dead, but it's going to be a while before her consciousness has gathered enough charge for her to be a real threat again. Something I'll have to deal with in time.
For now, I'll settle for just getting back to shore.
Normally I'd just pop up and fly my way back, but warping my gravitational field enough to fly requires a level of mental concentration I just can't seem to work up at the moment. I keep getting flashes of scrambled memories, flares of remembered pain, my attention drifting every time I try to focus on lifting myself out of the water. More than anything, though, there's a dull, heavy anger that sits like a thousand-ton weight on my mind, poisoning my thoughts. The more I try to concentrate, the more I feel my teeth clench, my hands ball into fists so hard they start to tremble. When I let it go, it persists, all of my thoughts cast in a thick red haze.
Unable to fly, I start to swim towards the shore instead. It's not as fast, but I can displace a hell of a lot of water with each stroke of my arms, so even as far out from land as I am, I'm able to cover the distance in maybe a minute. It feels like an eternity, though, and by the time I reach land, washing up near the Queensland Boardwalk, my arms and legs are screaming, my muscles cramping and my pulse pounding. I sit in the sand for a while, breathing in ragged gasps, trying to shake off the low rumble of an anger I can't place.
My eyes snap open, a heat that can cut through steel building up as the same damned buzzing I'd felt in my head returns. Livewire.....is she still--?
A small flying object, a little smaller than a dinner plate, whizzes above my head, and I realize the buzzing isn't in my head at all. It's a remote-control drone, and going by the Daily Planet sticker on its underside, it belongs to--
"Superman! Holy crap, you're okay!"
Jimmy Olsen. Running up the beach, my roommate and co-worker follows after his trusty camera drone, nearly tripping over himself as he hits the sand.
"Jimmy, right?" I greet him, trying not to let slip that I've been splitting rent with the guy for about seven months now. "How'd you find me?"
"This guy right here," he points to his drone as it circles around him. "I was able to pick you up on camera when you started swimming-- you kicked up enough of a wake that it was pretty hard to miss. Are you....are you all right?"
He glances down at my hands, and I realize they're clenched into fists again. It takes some concentration to let them loosen.
"I'll be all right," I say, avoiding eye contact. "I guess Livewire really did a number on me."
"You're not kidding, Big Guy," Jimmy laughs uneasily. "When you went down into the river, people were starting to think you'd died. Not me, though. I know it's gonna take more than a living joy-buzzer to keep you down, heh."
"Thanks," I nod. "How's the city? Is everyone okay?"
"It's pretty rough in Hob's Bay," he says. "They're saying at least twenty dead, another hundred or so injured. But it's not just Metropolis, Superman. Something major's going down. Perry's saying there have been other attacks happening all at once! There's an attack in New York, in Central City, in Gotham--"
"Gotham," I interrupt, and I start seeing red again.
Gotham. I was just in Gotham, what was it......I was looking for someone......
.....there was another emergency......
.....I left Lois in the city.......
.....the Batman, that was it.....I was hunting the Batman......
I start to feel my fingernails digging into my palms. All of my thoughts start to blur.
"Ummm, Superman?" Jimmy says, his voice starting to fade. "I'm starting to think you should take it easy. I mean, I've heard electricity does all kinds of bad things to the mind. You don't look like yourself...."
Rather than squash out my focus, that dull and heavy anger is now a conductor, channeling all the focus I need.
I rip through the air, only vaguely aware that I sent poor Jimmy and his drone tumbling into the sand in my wake.
"Gotham," I hear myself snarl through gritted teeth. "Lois. Batman. I'm coming for you."