A flare, a thunder and a force shoving them towards the grounds, it all happened at the same time, too quickly to react. The fall didn't hurt much, but it was hard to understand what was happening: flash, noise, ground not good
, noise, red ground, noise, the Egyptian charred not good not good
Then something began to move, shaking and screeching a terrible track forecasting their end being near, a constant, tremendous clamour that left no room for thinking, forcing Nil to stay where she stood, incapable of moving.
Henri was frustrated. Frustrated and fearful. For all his ability to neutralize powers, he couldn’t stop material on the move. Leonidas could work as a regular shield, but it had only one surface, while the sand was everywhere. All he could do was try and defend himself and others, and hope they’d survive long enough for the medic.
The sand prickled and glittered underfoot, silicon all but bristling in anticipation, before rippling in an odd manner of blink, as it seemed to notice something.
The faint sound of rotors could be heard flying towards them, above them, and soon enough, a Philippine Army Helicopter, a MBB Bo 105
, flew high above, lowering ropes from a high enough position that the change in air pressure won’t be detected by Tian Fei, at least not immediately.
It was a decent enough stratagem. By all accounts, it was exactly what the doctor ordered to evade the terrifying terrakinetic. But the air pressure wasn’t the problem. It was that the helicopter was making any sound at all.
The earth at the base of the mountains began to writhe more violently, almost seeming to bubble… No, it was
bubbling. There was a strange haze rising from the earth… Steam
? As ridiculous as that might have seemed, the temperature in the area was suddenly beginning to climb, most intensely from the mountains, billowing down across the sandy beach like a scorching desert wind. The face of the mountains and foothills began to look strangely runny
, even as odd tubular protrusions began to sprout across them.
At the same time, the remnants of the Philippine Army and Marines were firing their remaining artillery and rockets at the Chinese fleet, finding new courage even in the face of the renewed offensive. They had witnessed miracles - multiple ones - today, and they knew they can win this; they had won before in the Crisis of 1988, when Angelito Jaime had saved them all and ASEAN had presented a unified front.
The memory of their victory burnt anew, they just needed a new champion.
CMS Cabral’s voice echoed through the comms, “Oi! Sergeant Janssens, use your Anti-Magic to slow the landslide down! Then get up! Get up and make sure the rest of the team goes with you!”“Yes, sir!”
Henri replied, raising his shield. “Fighting in shade!”
The bubble of his shield expanded, and abruptly, the sands within 20 meters of the imperilled Arms Masters went deathly still. The sands further out seemed to flinch at that, thrashing a bit in what might have been a surprise. The writhing sands all around them lurched forward in a collapsing 2 meter wall from every direction at once, before flinching back again, as whatever mass passed the radius of Fighting in Shade slumped limply into the already stilled sands.
The glassy chime of the terrakinetic’s “voice” hummed in an eye-watering tone, like nails on a chalkboard, before a giggle like tinkling glass vibrated through the air. “WeLl NoW~! aReN’t YoU a SpEcIaL oNe?”
She “giggled” again, a sudden glee practically palpable in her alien tone. “So… ThAt’S hOw YoU dEsTrOyEd HuO rEn’S sUn So SuDdEnLy, IsN’t It? WhIcH mEaNs, ThE oThErS wItH yOu MuSt Be…”
The sands that had prior formed into a malicious mockery of a face twisted again, an excited sadism plain to see on the construct’s features. “ThE nUlLiFiEr, ThE pOrTaL mAkEr, AnD tHe AgItAtOr AlL hErE aT oNcE? I’vE sTrUcK gOlD!”
It was then that Henri noticed Sophist. The Agitator was in bad shape, but Henri would try and save him. Maybe the medics could patch him up together.“Callie!”
He told the other teammate, “Take Nil and climb up. I’ll be right behind you!”“InTeReStInG pLaN~!”
the terrakinetic responded idly, almost as if she could actually hear them. “I sUpPoSe I dOn’T hAvE tHe LuXuRy Of TaKiNg ThIs SlOwLy, NoW dO i?”
she almost seemed to pout through that discordant noise. “RiGhT tHeN~! lEt’S sEe HoW yOu TiCk, HmMm?”“...”
Callie stood, looking now towards their companion, scorched and only mostly there - now to the earth, churning with scarlet-stained glass - now to the sky, whence the strike had come. Could have - save - how do I - must -
Tendrils of sand began to rise up like the looming tentacles of a kraken. Two. Then six. Then a dozen. All of them began to almost delicately slide up the outer edges of Henri’s barrier, carefully prodding and mapping the radius. “HrMm… TwEnTy MetErS iN aLl DiReCtIoNs… UnDeRgRoUnD aS wElL… yEs~, ThAt DoEs ApPeAr To TrAcK~! A pErFeCt SpHeRe, It SeEmS! A ReSpEcTaBlE sIzE fOr SuCh A pOtEnT eFfEcT!”
The voice was commenting and logging her observations in English to the open air, almost to herself, seemingly completely uncaring of how much the enemy knew that she knew.
Henri grabbed Sophist with his free hand and ran towards the helicopter.“Be careful with him, he’s badly hurt!”
he warned the crew up above. “Callie, are you in?”“Oh? sO tHe RaDiUs MoVeS wItH yOu?”
the terrakinetic remarked. “ExCeLlEnT! wE’rE lEaRnInG tOgEtHeR!”
The sandy tendrils wriggled happily, as they began to brush more boldly across the barrier. “Oh!”
the horrible crackling exclaimed in realisation. “ThE sAnD IsN’T bEiNg DeStRoYeD! yEs, I cAn FeEl iT, wHaT wAs TaKeN bEiNg UnCoVeReD wItH eAcH dEsPeRaTe StEp! No, ThE sAnD hAsN’t GoNe AnYwHeRe… It’S jUsT bEeN… hIdDeN… I wOnDeR hOw MuCh YoU cAn ‘HiDe’ BeFoRe ThAt BuBbLe Of YoUrS pOpS~!”
Callie’s mind whirled, directionless. The vision of it all - the blood, the fire, the horror of it… But Henri’s words, finally, cut through.“O-okay! Yes, sir!”
She forced her eyes shut momentarily, decoupling Charter from her rifle, securing the latter and reaching out for Nil’s hand. The girl was pulled after her with little effort, following Callie in a seemingly mindless state.How are you going to protect them?“Going to be fine,”
she told - Nil? Herself? Callie wasn’t sure. But as she began to run, to let her mind work again, to let her eyes take in the world about her, she did know how
she called ahead, slowly catching him given the weight he bore. “Just tell the heli, get as high as they can, then cancel the null when it’s safest! I’ll take us!””Affirmative!”
Henri answered and contacted the helicopter crew ”Delay my last order. Get as high as you can and wait. We’ll teleport in.”
The crew seemed to understand the order; the helicopter up above began to gain altitude. Now for the hard part.“Ah~! So, YoU dO hAvE tHe LiTtLe PoRtAl PeSt WiTh YoU~!”
There was no doubt now. Somehow, Tian Fei could hear them, every word they were saying, despite that they were no longer in contact with the earth under her direct control, she must have had a secondary method of perception. “WeLl ThEn~! I sUpPoSe DrAsTiC tImEs CaLl FoR dRaStIC mEaSuReS~!”
At that tone of consideration, it seemed to be the sands’ que to begin bodily shoving into the barrier’s radius. Though the silicon waves immediately stilled and slumped limply upon crossing the line of Fighting in Shade, they continued to flow relentlessly, the “water level” of sand at the fleeing Arms Masters’ feet beginning to rise inexorably. And as the sand did so, the sun gleamed ominously off several surfaces intermixed within it. Despite being disconnected from her control, it seemed Tian Fei was testing the waters, funnelling 3-foot tall, hollow “sea urchins” along in her sand’s grasp, all of them formed of razor-sharp glass, as they rolled forward from all directions, shoved by the tide of sand.
Simultaneously, blades and other constructs of glass, solid visually, began to prod the barrier as well, daring past the line in various sizes. Initially, they were small and thin, and upon passing the barrier, they slumped, cracked and collapsed into the flow below, but even this was a threat -if perhaps inadvertently- in the case of those blades angled from higher up the sphere’s outside, the risk of falling razor glass prevalent. If that were all, it would have been one thing, but it wasn’t all. One blade, thicker than the rest, was extended through the barrier… and successfully pulled back. The rest of the tendrils stilled for a moment, before writhing in excitement.“So, It’S nOt TeLePoRtAtIOn, NoR teMpoRaRy Or EvEn PeRmEnAnT oBlItErAtIoN, nOt LiKe ThE dEsTruCtIoN oF HuO rEn’S sUn MiGhT hAvE iMpLiEd… ThE gLaSs IsN’t BrEaKiNg FrOm LeAvInG mY cOnTrOl… No, It Is, BuT nOt FoR tHe ObViOuS rEaSoNs… YeS… yEs, I sEe! InTeGrItY! tHaT’s ThE sOlUtIoN! i JuSt HaVe To GeT a LiTtLe… ThIcKeR~!”
For a moment, a thought - She can hear us, God, she can - but, if she can, she needs some way to… Is she right…
Her eyes cast about then, searching desperately… Then stopped. Or she senses from earth right beyond the barrier and is just that good at it. Unsure - no time!
Thus, Callie focused, willing energy forth, already visualising the portal ahead of Henri to the aircraft up above. Nothing happened yet, of course, and there laid the risk - but so long as he let go of Leonidas’ power once the three were all together, it would be momentary, and he could bring his bubble back online.
Thicker glass constructs now began to push past Henri’s barrier, blades, clubs and sturdy, well-made formations. As they moved, they were still, inert and lifeless, aside from where they rooted outside Fighting in Shade’s radius. And this time, they weren’t succumbing to the Anti-Noble Arm power. It seemed that, without being actively animated under Tian Fei’s will, and -more pertinently- held together
solely by her terrakinetic power over them, they were able to pass and be wielded by her. Clumsily, granted. Blindly, seemingly also. But this time, her formations carried actual structural integrity, were designed with physics in mind and were held together purely by mundane merits.”Okay, then.”
Henri messaged, ”I will drop the nullifying field in three… two…”Oh, God, don’t count, she’ll - no time, just ACT! “Nil, listen, please - when I jump, jump!”“One… now!”
The field dropped; in the same instant Callie’s will, released, surged forth like the thousand times it had in the years before - practised, instinctual. A portal bridging so little distance, even person-sized, took only hundredths of a second to conjure. Henri was there already, getting through the portal at his own end; Callie and Nil right behind, Callie leaping for where she knew the portal would be just before Henri loosed the nullification to get herself off the ground
in that moment of vulnerability - she looked without slowing down, brain throwing out half-a-dozen sparks of ideas against things that Tian Fei might throw at them…
And then she and Nil were sprawling on a metal floor dozens of metres off the ground, the glare of sunlight gleaming off the blades of glass that had almost sluggishly passed through where they once stood not a moment prior. And with a ripple, the sands seemed to chitter in consternation, before flashing towards the open portal like bloodhounds. “Through!”
Callie called to the sergeant, already cutting the connection as fast as she could, clutching Nil’s hand in her own. The gap in space snapped shut with the ringing chime of severed glass shards and a violent spray of sand upon the helicopter’s innards. Shards of glass, now inert, crashed against the inner copter walls and shattered messily, scattering across the floor… and mercifully nothing more, aside from being a bit of a hazard in the case of a bad fall.
Nil’s head had jumped from an explosion, to the rattling of dozens of glass shards, some even sounding like… a voice, to actually jumping… or being pulled? At least the now more constant chop chop
of the helicopter was a bit more bearable, or at least less unbearable.
There was some glass scattered all over the metal floor, this time small, inert and definitely didn’t rattle around like before, she raised a hand to the ear protection that had stopped working after the blast, maybe one day they’ll make them missile-proof
Henri left Sophist at the care of the medical personnel on board the copter and took a position from where he could observe the situation below. It was all so frustrating. This was supposed to be his baptism by fire, yet he couldn’t even save all those people. He hit the floor in frustration, Leonidas in his arm feeling like a pot lid. Henri didn’t dare to activate the nullifying field. He could only use it for a few minutes at a time, and the field had already been used. Henri could feel his heart beating like crazy and sweat blocking his sight.”Does this thing never tire?”
thought Henri to himself, trying to conserve energy for an emergency nullification.
Callie, meanwhile, checked over Nil, pointedly avoided
checking over Sophist… Then, in a moment of possible prescience, possible mania, possible fear, she summoned a portal, a tiny one, linking once again to high above the battlefield, gazing over it like Henri.
She sucked in breath.
The hills looked much the same - glittering with glass, evershifting, almost as a second sea roiling above the first… But now joined by a third black and green, amongst the city of Lingayen itself. It raced westward, towards the river, rushing to confront Tian Fei’s broken earth.
Qingshe was at work.