As Icon approached the Purifier, he was surprised to find that the massive black monolith was much more imposing the closer he got.
“That…is the end of the world.” Flux’s words again echoed in the back of his mind as he looked over the structure for any obvious weaknesses, and just as he expected, he found none. There were no seams, no “cracks in the armor,” so to speak. It appeared to be a single solid construct of impossible design.
As he approached the base of the Purifier, he could see that some of the Guardians had already begun to assemble before the alien structure. Iron Knight, Radiance, and Flux had already gathered. He could see Lyger making his way there traveling across the rooftops, with Terra Firma landing close by not long after. Icon slowly descended to the ground, landing between Radiance and Flux, when suddenly a voice called out, a voice belonging to someone he hadn’t seen upon his approach.
“Can’t say I care for their architecture…Time we returned this bastard to sender…”
“Well, what do you boys say we blow this thing to Hell?!” Radiance said as she looked up at the massive structure.
The Vigilante marched up to the obsidian tower, peering upwards towards the enormity of its height, and remembered that the rod they provided the Aquilifer with was powered by a type of alien magic. Remembering the portal to Hell, he started to take off the gravity gauntlet over his right hand, swung his arm over a few times, rotating his shoulder, he reared back for a haymaker, and…
…shattered almost every bone in his right hand. The tower remained otherwise undisturbed other than a small smear of red blood trickling down the base.
"Alright. Not constructed by magic. Good to know. Big Blue, have at it. I just softened it up for you."
“I don’t need to be the smartest man in the room to realize punching this alien spire will not achieve anything,” Iron Knight suggested after witnessing one of his fellow Guardians shattering his hand against the metal exterior of the Arlaaekan superweapon. “We need some sort of plan of attack. I would normally try to hack into this thing, but I can’t risk either compromising my armor to whatever is running this machine or speeding up the countdown to doomsday.”
Chris then turned to Flux. Since she had aided him and many other heroes in the final confrontation with the Hounds of Humanity, Chris knew he could trust her. For, had the Hounds crushed the heroes of Lost Haven, Arlaaekan victory would have certainly been assured, as without the heroes, there would have been far less resistance against the alien invasion.
“Any insights on how we can get rid of this metallic monstrosity?”
An arrowhead on some cabling, while it didn’t bury itself into the hard surface, found purchase on the Purifier. Moments later, Fletch skidded towards the gathering heroes of the tower, her body still aching from the shockwave of the Purifier’s impact on Earth and stops a few metres away from the group. Looking at the towering object on the planet, she gathered herself as she hobbled over to the rest of the group. As the group tried a few ideas about dealing with the threat, her mind thought back to the alien tank, of all places. While her mind was still wanting to shut down with everything that was overwhelming her, the same question came to h er mind. As she looked up when reaching the group, her head tilted towards Iron Knight.
”Hey Iron Knight. Not sure what this is or what it is capable of, but would you say this is also something that is driven on electronic circuits?“
“The probability is definitely high, but this structure is composed of some sort of alloy of unknown origin. For all we know, the fruits of our labors would merely be turning my armor into a large and quite expensive paperweight. Let’s keep the EMP in our back pocket as a last ditch effort.”
”About that. I assume you would have already done this if it was possible; but would you happen to have any sort of penetrating radar to peek inside?” Terra added, gesturing hand towards the aliens’ unsightly tower.
“Unfortunately, the alien alloy seems to be interfering with my scanners. But whatever is inside, it cannot be good.”
As the heroes debated the best course of action to deal with the massive monolith, Icon noticed movement coming from the top of the tower. It was as if the top of the Purifier was opening, and a large plate-like structure began to position itself at the peak.
“I think we may be running out of time.” Icon said as he lifted off the ground and raced skyward. Once Icon had ascended to the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, he slowed his ascent to a stop and then repositioned himself, facing Lost Haven below. From his position high above the city, he locked onto the tower’s position and accelerated toward it. Icon thought that despite the Vigilante’s lack of decorum, he might have been right when it comes to how best to deal with the alien superweapon. As Icon approached the city, he steadily increased his speed.
Once he was again within the city’s limits, Icon increased his speed yet again, this time, a thunderous boom echoed as the cobalt and silver clad hero shattered the sound barrier just before he collided with the Purifier. To say that the collision lacked the desired effect would have been a massive understatement. Instead of driving himself through the tower, causing the gigantic monolith to collapse in on itself, Icon found himself careening away from the structure, crashing through one side of a nearby skyscraper and out the other side, his momentum propelling him away from the tower.
After several long moments, the stunned hero was able to regain control of his faculties and slow his trajectory. He again directed himself toward the structure and, feeling deflated and embarrassed he touched down at the base of the structure near the other heroes.
[b] “It doesn’t look like a physical assault is going to get the job done. Let’s hit this thing with everything we’ve got. Maybe we can overload the damn thing.” Icon said as his eyes began glowing with a crimson energy before he unleashed a massive optic blast at the tower.
Terra nodded, and formed up alongside Icon. ”Right behind you!“ He said, then took a wide stance. His arms spread out to the sides, swiftly crossed over his chest, lightning shimmered into existence around his forearms then shot towards the tower in a horizontal arc as he flung his arms out.
“That had to do it.” Radiance said as the gathered heroes relented in their assault on the Purifier. The mightiest heroes on Earth had unleashed their full might upon the menacing structure in an unprecedented attack that by rights should have collapsed a mountain. However, as the dust from the attack settled, they could see that the attack not only failed to topple the monolith, it didn't even make a dent.
“How is that possible?” Lyger asked aloud to no one in particular, astonishment rang in his voice.
“That doesn't matter.” Icon said. “What matters is, is there anything else we can do?” Icon said just as a radiant shimmering light began to emanate from the top of the structure.
“There might be.” Flux said as her eyes widened with a sudden realization. She paused for a moment, as if trying to recall something that had been hidden away in her memory, the details of which had faded with the passage of time. She looked up at the monolith, scanning its surface as if searching for something. Then after she seemingly found what she was looking for, she pointed excitedly.
“There!” She exclaimed, still pointing at a specific point on the Purifier.
“What are we looking at?” Lyger asked as he looked up in the general direction that Flux had indicated.
“An exhaust port. If my memory serves me correctly, it leads right to the heart of the Purifier. If we can hit it with enough energy, it should temporarily bring down the defenses, shields and all. It'll leave it vulnerable until the system can reset itself. We should be able to bring it down before the shields come back up.” Flux explained.
“Right. Then what do you say we stop standing around and hit that thing with everything we got?” Radiance said, eager to end the threat of the Purifier once and for all.
“It's....not that simple.” Flux said, her voice taking a darker tone. She paused as she tried to find her next words. “It has to be done from inside the machine. The exhaust port should be large enough for someone to get inside and detonate the attack. But whoever goes in will be engulfed by the purging light. It's a one way trip.”
The gathered heroes stood in silence as they pondered what Flux had just told them. In order for them to save the world, someone would have to make the ultimate sacrifice. The reality of the situation set in for everyone, and after a brief moment of contemplation, Icon stepped forward.
“I'll do it.” He said as he looked at the manhole sized opening just under the emitter which was releasing an increasing amount of the shimmering light.
“Are you sure? I don't think that even...you could survive.” Flux said as she looked upon Icon.
“I'm sure.” Icon said, looking away from his teal skinned ally.
He looked back up to the monstrous construct, and was about to lift off, probably for the last time, when he felt a gentle tug on his arm. He looked back and his eyes met those of Radiance, and a sudden pang of nearly unbearable sorrow washed over him as he saw the pain in her eyes. Her grip on his arm strengthened as she leaned against him.
“Scott...” Her voice cracked as she said his name. “There has to be another way.”
“There isn't.” He said softly in his own voice. “You know that this is the only way.” Icon said.
“Scott, you don't have to do this.” She said, almost pleading. A plea that she knew better than anyone, would fall on deaf ears.
“If not me, who?” Icon said as she pulled him closer. “It has to be me. There's no other way.”
“It's just not fair. This was supposed to be our wedding day. This was supposed to be the start of our life together.” She cut herself short, not wanting to verbalize what she was thinking
“I love you, Alexa.” He said as he leaned in to kiss his love one last time.
Suddenly, the deafening roar of thunder, the sound as intense as a thousand locomotives racing toward a singular destination reverberated throughout the city as a massive thunderbolt crashed down atop of Icon. As the immense jolt of electricity coursed through his body, Icon felt as though his bones were breaking one by one. By the time the second bolt of lightning struck him, his legs were completely useless, and he was unable to move.
“I love you too. Alexa said as she looked down at her fallen lover. “Forgive me.” She said as she took to the skies and made her way toward the Purifier.
“You've saved us all so many times, it's time that we repay the favor-” She said, almost to herself. Though, she knew that with his highly sensitive hearing, that Scott would be able to hear every word. “-even if it means saving you from yourself...I love you Scott, I hope you understand.” She said as she made her ascent.
Scott, from the first day that I met you, I knew that there was just something special about you. Right from the start, you were honest and open with me, and you invited me into your world without looking back. As days turned to months, I've seen firsthand what a remarkable person you are through and through. As she rose through the sky, Radiance’s thoughts shifted to something that had been heavy on her mind for several months. Something that she had thought about and labored over almost every minute of every day, something that had been interrupted by the invading armada as she had just begun to recite...her wedding vows.
You are so full of warmth that you lift me up and provide me with strength when I feel that all is lost. I am constantly grateful for your open heart and profound empathy. You inspire me constantly to slow down and lean into the moments I love the most: the companionship, the intimate moments that we share, the journey. Whereas I am like a hot air balloon, ready to jet off at a moment's notice, you are the pilot that grounds me when I need fuel.
Silently she made her way up along the monolith until she reached obsidian grates that covered the exhaust vent. She examined the opening, and determined that she should be able to squeeze in between the grates without too much trouble. She contemplated slipping in through the grates, but hesitated. With a thought, an electrical field covered her entire body, giving it a slight illumination. She hoped that the field might buy her enough time to overload the Purifier before…
Without you, I would slowly deflate and come crashing down to Earth; but with you, I have direction and safety...and peace. Someone once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” I will continuously work to know better and be better for you-in mind, body, and heart. When life is smooth sailing, and when challenges arise; I promise to always be there for you, to work together through all of life's twists and turns, and most of all, to provide a lifetime of adventures and new opportunities. And everything, always, with all the love I have to offer.
She looked down to the heroes that were still gathered at the base of the monolith, some were tending to Icon, who despite his best efforts, was still unable to get to his feet. She watched him for a moment, and memories flooded back. The first time she saw him in public, and how his mere presence left her in awe. To how she deduced his secret identity after the whole Diplodoc fiasco. She remembered their first date, to the moment that he proposed, to the moment she walked down the aisle just minutes before their nuptials had been interrupted by an invading alien force. She took one last look at him, and wiped a tear from her eye as she slid inside the exhaust vent.
I love you with all my heart, with all my soul; head, shoulders, knees and toes. With every inch of my being, and with every thought, I love you.
She was immediately engulfed in the burning white light that flowed through the Purifier. At first, the electrical field seemed to hold, however, it was only a momentary respite. The light burned, but even as every nerve ending in her body screamed out in pain, she reached down deep and expelled the most powerful electrical charge that she had ever been able to summon. The lights in the Purifier flickered, but continued to shine. Then she summoned up another electrical blast, the lights flickered again. Then another, and another, each charge larger in scale than the last.
It was getting harder for her to focus, her breathing was becoming labored. Her eyelids were becoming heavy. The temptation to give in and succumb to the Purging Light was real, however, she knew that she couldn't give up. She couldn't let them down, she couldn't let HIM down. So she reached down one more time, and unleashed an electrical torrent within the confines of the Purifier even as the burning white light tried to claim her. She let out a guttural scream as she expelled the last of her energy. And with that, the Purging Light within the Purifier flickered, and then went dark, and with her final breath, Alexa Winstone, the hero known as Radiance, truly became immortal.
Icon struggled to get to his feet, even with the help of the Iron Knight and Lyger. Staggering, he watched as the Purifier went dark. Overcome with panic, he somehow was able to leave his feet, and without a thought he rocketed into the air toward the exhaust vent. As he reached the vent, he grabbed the obsidian grates and pulled them from the body of the monolith. He forced himself several feet into the weapon until he could feel Alexa.
“No, oh god no.” He repeated over and over as he pulled her from the infernal machine. With his enhanced hearing, he listened, but could not hear her heartbeat. “Oh, no, no, no, no...” he said with tears in his eyes.
“Come on baby, please.” He said as he cradled her to his chest and made the slow descent back down to the Earth. When he landed, he laid her lifeless body on the ground, and knelt down beside her, cradling her head to his chest. “Alexa, it should have been me.....it should have been me.” He cried, unaware of the others who had gathered around them.
“Now's our chance.” Lyger's gruff voice broke the silence. “Hit that son of a bitch with everything you've got!”
Terra looked on at the sight of Icon cradling a woman, crying awful tears over her. While he had merely been acquainted with Icon, even Terra could tell what had just happened. Terra couldn’t help but wonder if they were married yet, or if they were dating. As he pondered their situation, his mind dwelled on his own. If he had to witness his own wife dying before his eyes, just what would he do? It was an awful thought, taking great will to shake off. Right now, he looked forward to seeing his family again, to hold them in his own arms. Before that though, he had to wrap things up here. Being neither a friend nor family to Icon, he could only offer prayers from within his own mind, as well as help bring this story to a close.
”Icon, fall back, you’ve done enough.” Terra said firmly, his voice filled with reassurance, as he then shifted his attention towards the Purifier. ”And now, the end!”
The air around Terra suddenly snapped with energy. Spreading his arms out wide, a radiant energy, pulsating with raw power, began to gather in Terra's palms, growing in intensity with each second he held that pose. Ruby embers danced and swirled around his arms as they imprinted his movements into the air. Bringing his hands together in front of his head, Terra gathers the pure energy of the Earth, his pity, and Icon’s sorrow all into the pulse of power within his palms. In one swift, sharp motion, Terra shoots his arms out to the side, launching a powerful and vibrant ray towards the vile machine.
Even before Iron Knight formed the Guardians with Icon, the two superheroes had already endured many trials: demons, Knightmare, Doctor Diplodoc, and even the Hounds of Humanity. In each of these crises, the assembled heroes emerged victorious. The closest anyone had come to losing their life was when the Hounds of Humanity used their orbital satellite against Iron Knight and placed him into a coma. Yet, during the Arlaaekan Invasion, three Guardians had fallen and there was nothing the others could have done to prevent it.
Iron Knight saw that his friend was in pain. It seemed like it was just yesterday when Icon, Radiance, and a few other future members of the Guardians had rendezvoused at Settler’s Clearing in response to the mutagenic domes Doctor Diplodoc formed across the United States. Neither Icon nor Radiance told it to Iron Knight, but it was clear even on that day that there was something between the two.
As a friend and fellow Guardian, Iron Knight knew he should be consoling Icon. However, the fate of the world was on the line. If whoever of the Guardians still standing could not capitalize on the sudden vulnerability of the alien device, countless more lives would perish and Radiance’s sacrifice would have been in vain.
“Let’s focus our fire on the same spot,” Iron Knight declared as he fired a laser at the Arlaaekan doomsday weapon and focused his aim at the very same spot Terra Firma had.
As if on cue, the remaining Guardians, save for Icon, opened fire with everything they had on the Purifier. However, this time was different. Without the protection of its defense system, the Purifier absorbed the combined assault of Earth’s protectors. The massive monolithic structure heaved under the assault, until finally, the Purifier began to buckle and sway. Then, there was a deafening crack as the Purifier began to collapse in upon itself.
The sudden collapse of the monolith set forth a massive clastic flow, rubble and debris rushed out in all directions threatening to envelope anyone within it. As the massive cloud of dust and debris rushed toward the heroes, they suddenly found themselves within a protective bubble, keeping them safe from the onrushing debris. At the center of the protective shield stood Flux, who strained to keep the shield up against the onslaught of the clastic flow. For what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only several moments, Flux struggled as debris from the monolith battered the shield, until finally the flow finally passed, and the dust began to settle.
“I didn’t know you could do that.” Lyger said unable to mask the amazement in his voice.
“Neither did I,” Flux admitted breathlessly.
Once the flow had abated and the scene cleared, the remaining Guardians looked upon the wreckage of what had once been the Purifier, now reduced to a harmless pile of rubble, and could only wonder, and brace for, whatever would come next.
Miles above Earth in the Arlaaekan mothership, Captain Jin’Karyon found himself staring at the reports from the battlefield, and suddenly wanted to sit down. Suddenly, he felt flush and his legs felt like lead.
“Impossible.” He said under his breath, his words barely audible, even to himself.
“What is it, Captain?” Came a voice from behind him. The voice made him shudder.
“It appears…My Lord, that the so-called heroes of Earth have managed to somehow…-” Jin’Karyon paused for a moment, not wanting to be the one to deliver bad news to the Autocrat. He had heard tales of those who had displeased their ruler, and wanted to avoid becoming yet another cautionary tale. However, he knew that making the Autocrat wait posed its own dangers, so he decided to come out with it. “-destroyed the Purifier.”
For a long moment, the Autocrat stood in silence. As hard as he tried, Jin’Karyon could not decipher what was going through the ruler’s mind. Finally, the Autocrat let out a long, slow breath.
“Prepare the teleporter, Captain. I am going to deal with these ‘heroes.’” the Autocrat finally said.
“Should I prepare the Elite Guard as well, My Lord?” Jin’Karyon asked.
“No. I am going to deal with them myself.” The Autocrat said as he departed the bridge.