Morales moved with frightening speed, closing the distance between us in a single leap. I tried to summon my energy, but I wasn’t fast enough. Reflexively, I threw up my arms to protect my face, and let out a scream of pain as I felt the claws rake across my arm. It felt like hot pokers had been jammed into my forearm only to be ripped out, leaving the skin to burn.
I was mostly covered with my energy by now, but the lizard-man tried using his free hand to go for my stomach. Before he could land the swipe, I saw a large silver object rush past me. Corey’s wing slammed into Morales, sending him staggering back. There were dozens of small scrapes and cuts on the meta’s living armor from where Corey’s metallic feathers had done their job. Still, Morales was one tough son of a bitch.
Something small and shiny sailed through the air to my right. My eyes darted over to see a… toaster? Whitney must have used her powers before chucking it towards Morales because it was covered in glowing lines. The appliance exploded violently in the air next to Morales, throwing him clear across the room.
I staggered back myself, but the extra balance from the energy swirling around me kept me on my feet.
“Get him!” Whitney yelled, preparing more things to throw.
“I can’t fight him in here, it’s too small,” Corey said as his wings slowly seemed to shrink.
We had to get Morales out of here. He was still dazed from Whitney’s explosion, but he wouldn’t be for long. I didn’t think I was faster than he was, but I might be stronger. This was bad, Corey was grounded, and Whitney couldn’t let loose without hurting us. Morales could rip us apart, and that was my fault. I was the one who lured them to Chicago.
“If you can’t fight him here, we’ll take it outside,” I said, charging forward with the added force of my energy. Morales staggered to his feet, and, luckily for me, was standing in front of a window. I slammed into him around his midsection, carrying us both through the window in a shower of glass.
If I could take a bullet, I could survive a two-story fall, right? Either way, I was about to find out.
Morales hit the concrete first, with me landing on top of him a split second later. Through the barrier of energy, I could feel a whoosh as the impact knocked the breath out of him. Still, he wasn’t down and out. Like a frenzied animal he scratched at the energy covering me, but his claws simply slid off. Then he changed tactics. I tried to roll off, but Morales caught my wrist and threw me with astonishing strength despite his lack of leverage.
It was disorienting as I tumbled through the air, landing several feet away. Morales tried to flip himself over, but Corey followed us out the window, diving down at the other meta like a hawk swooping for its prey. Corey used his wings to flip himself around just before impact and used his legs and downward momentum to slam Morales’ head into the concrete.
Whitney began pelting the area with small ball bearings charged with her power while Corey climbed back into the sky. Morales finally jumped to his feet, shielding his head with his arms from the explosive barrage. Realizing I was just standing around, I ran in to help.
“Whitney, call in some backup, Nate and I will keep him busy,” Corey yelled as he circled like a buzzard, waiting for an opening.
Morales looked up when the explosions stopped but snapped his head to me as I rushed in. I thought back to what I’d done with Vindicator and threw a punch with the added force of my powers. Morales easily moved out of the way and grabbed me while I was off balance. My stomach lurched as he threw me over his shoulder like a rag doll. It was less than dignified as I bounced off the wall of the apartment building and landed in a heap on the ground.
“Damn heroes! Fuck off and leave me alone!”
“Not gonna happen,” Corey called out, dropping down with his wings coming together to form a point below him. Morales jumped back, causing Corey’s wings to embed themselves into the concrete. Claws lashed out in an immediate counter attack, but Corey was ready for it. His wings were defiantly more…flexible? No, that wasn’t quite the word. Prehensile? Close enough. They were more prehensile than any bird wings I’d ever seen.
Corey brought his wings together so that they formed a sloping shield of sorts. Morales’ claws set off a small shower of sparks when they hit but didn’t seem to do any damage.
While the lizard was fighting the bird, I’d managed to pick myself up. I felt about as useful as neon pink camo. Corey and Whitney had training and practice with their powers, I was just a janitor in over his head. But Morales didn’t seem to be much better off than me. Corey had managed to pull his wings free and was using them to bat the villain’s strikes aside. He was making it look easy, but Morales was fast, and wasn’t showing any sign of tiring. I didn’t know if Corey could keep up.
Whitney came running out the front of the apartment building holding a glowing vase in either hand.
“Fire in the hole!”
Without any more words of encouragement, Corey sent himself skyward with a large downbeat of his wings. Whitney threw her vases in quick succession towards Morales. I’d seen some of her earlier explosions, but they were firecrackers compared to these. The lizard man vanished in the ball of fire and smoke as the shockwaves set off car alarms and nearly knocked me over.
“Did you get him?” Corey asked, trying to peer through the inadvertent smokescreen.
Before anyone could answer, my vision flashed blue.
When I came to, I was standing in the parking lot next to an empty spot and the smoke was almost cleared away. “Jesus, Nate, how’d you do that?” Whitney asked.
“Do what?” I asked, looking around. And then I saw what Whitney was dramatically gesturing towards; a car thrown the wall of the apartment building
“You fucking nailed him, Nate!” Corey said, landing next to me. “I though he had me there for a second.”
Before I had time to process everything they were saying, the car shifted. Morales gave the wrecked sedan a shove before crawling out over the hood.
“How tough is this guy?” Whitney groaned.
“They told me about you, you fucking overgrown lightbulb. You pack a wallop, but you’re no Wrath,” Morales hissed.
Morales didn’t seem to be injured at all despite the tattered condition his clothes were in. Between Corey’s wings, Whitney’s explosions, and my car-javelin, they were just ribbons clinging to his frame.
“Why isn’t he attacking?” Whitney whispered so we, hopefully, were the only ones that could hear.
I hadn’t noticed, but he was just standing there, staring at us. “Get ready to move,” Corey said, tensing himself and getting ready to launch himself into the sky. Whitney slipped the handfuls of small ball bearings back into the pouches on her belt in favor of two larger ones and began to slowly charge them with her power.
“Nate, how tough is your forcefield?”
“I can take a bullet pretty easily,” I said. “Why?”
“Just in ca-”
Before Corey could finish, Morales suddenly flexed his whole body and his scales shot off like shrapnel from a frag grenade. Corey spun around, wrapping Whitney and himself in his wings. The tan scales punched through car doors and broke windows in a wide arc around the lizard man. Corey’s wings managed to protect my teammates, but I wasn’t quite as lucky. I felt dozens of impacts from the smaller scales, but one of the larger armor plates hit me in the chest and threw me back.
“Ugh, that’s going to bruise,” I groaned, as I started to get back on my feet. Morales looked different: his scales had already regrown, but they were larger with several spines protruding from his back and from his elbows. With his apparent shedding over, he charged. Corey rushed to meet him, flying low across the ground while Whitney pelted the villain with a barrage of small explosions.
Suddenly, my phone rang. It really couldn’t have come at a worst time. How could I even get to it? That question was answered for me when the call connected on its own. “Nate!”
The voice sounded slightly tinny coming over the speaker, but I recognized it immediately: The Anarchist.
“Shard is fighting your team in Russia, he’s on his way to deal with all of you. Get out of there!”
As soon as she ended the call, we were surrounded by a swirling mass of smoke-like energy. “Guys, get back, Shard is here!” I called out, looking around.
“What?” Corey yelled as the energy cleared. Erin, Adam, and Ian were suddenly standing next to me looking dazed with a man in a black suit standing next to Morales. Shard looked the same as he did in the security footage from the prison except this time, I could see his eyes glowing like embers.
Grinning, Shard stretched out his arm like he was reaching for something. Corey jerked to a halt like he’d reached the end of an invisible leash, his wings splayed out to the side as he cried out in pain. Shard rotated his hand so his palm was facing up, and Corey flipped to his back before being violently slammed into the ground as Shard mimed the motion with his hand.
“Corey!” Whitney screamed. Enraged, she began pelting the area Shard and Morales stood. Shard held up his hand and the pellets came to a stop in the air before harmlessly detonating. Erin was slightly glowing red as runes traced themselves across her skin. Her eyes were full of fury, but she held her ground. Ian clutched a bleeding shoulder while Adam had several bloody spots on his uniform as well.
“Nate?” Erin asked, seeming just as confused as we were. “Shit, he teleported us.”
Shard looked pristine, like he was on his way to a business meeting. Corey was still pinned to the ground by the villain’s telekinesis, locking us in a standoff. “Look what we have here: all the Argonauts in one place,” Shard snarled.
Multiple knives appeared in a swirl of energy around Shard before flying towards us with deadly intent. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the glow surrounding Erin turn from red to green, but before I could react, my vision washed blue again.
“Thanks, Nate,” Whitney whispered when I came to. “Don’t mention it,” I muttered as I tried to piece together what happened. There was a new dull pain in my chest, but it could have been any number of bumps I’d gotten recently. Erin was shielding Ian, and Adam was holding one of Shard’s knives in his hand. While my vision was blue, I had moved several feet to stand between Whitney and the knife-throwing telekinetic. I looked at my own hand and realized I had managed to catch one of the blades in the same way Adam had.
The knives all vanished at once just like they appeared, but Shard wasn’t done yet. He raised his hands like preacher telling his congregation to rise as several cars around us started to lift off the pavement. I also worryingly noticed that the shards of glass from the broken windows started to swirl around as well.
Adam unholstered one of his pistols and quickly aimed at Shard. He pulled the trigger but the shot hit nothing but air as the villain easily teleported away. The cars didn’t fall, though. Instead, they started to slowly move. “Where is he?” Adam asked, his voice sounding different than I remembered it.
“Oh my God, Corey!” Whitney called out, hurrying over to our teammate. One of Shard’s knives had managed to stab him in his chest, dangerously close to his heart by the look of it. The levitating cars began to pick up speed, rotating around us like a cyclone.
“We have to get Corey and get out of here,” Erin said, looking for Shard. “Did you call backup?” She asked.
“Whitney did, don’t know where they are,” I said.
At some point in the confusion shard caused, Morales had vanished, but that didn’t make me feel any better.
I whirled around to see Shard standing right behind me. He flicked his hand and sent me flying back. I landed with a thump next to Whitney and Corey while the villain turned his attention to Erin and the rest of the team. He tried to do the same thing to Erin, but she didn’t budge. For the first time in the entire fight, I saw Shard’s wicked grin falter.
Erin’s green glow instantly switched back to red. She unleashed a blisteringly fast punch that caught Shard in his chest and knocked him back. He teleported again, reappearing a few feet further back. Instead of a grin, Shard’s face was twisted into a scowl. One of the orbiting cars shot towards Erin who easily batted it aside, causing the scowl to deepen.
Adam fired more rounds from his pistol, but Shard was ready, and caught the bullets with his powers. Erin was safe from the cars, or at least I thought she was, but none of the rest of us were. I could hear sirens in the distance, probably Argus. Hopefully Argus. Still, I didn’t think they could do much. We had to get Corey out of here, he wouldn’t last for too much longer. If he didn’t, he could die, they all could die, and it would be all my fault. More people would die because of me.
The cars were spinning faster now, and Shard had managed to draw in any loose objects he could find. There was enough potential ammunition to crush us to hell and back. We had to find a way out, there had to be. I was the reason Corey was hurt, because of me, because of me…
Something felt different. I looked down at my hands, the usual dark blue energy had turned almost white. I could feel them brimming with power as the energy churned and shifted like a violent ocean in the wrath of a storm. It wanted out. The energy was surging with something I hadn’t felt before. I didn’t know if I could call it instinct, or just a hunch, but I felt compelled to aim my hands at Shard.
Thoughts and feelings welled up inside as images flicked through my mind. Corey laying on the pavement, bleeding out. Guilt. Shard treating it all as a joke. Hatred. Lying to my team. Shame. Getting everyone into this mess. Anger. All my emotions focused on Shard, my power latching onto them.
My vision blurred, blinking between the chaotic scene in front of me and the eerie tranquility of the forest from my dreams. I felt the presence, the entity, the mental weight from the place press against the back of my mind. I could feel it, an echo of what I felt, of my emotions, wanting to come in. And I opened the door.
It was a mistake: blue bled into my vision. I saw a house, a home being swallowed by sapphire flames, two faces crying out as they were consumed by my thoughts. It was too much, I was drowning, suffocating, I needed to breathe, why couldn’t I breathe? And then it all came pouring out. Twin torrents of blue-white energy erupted from my hands, bleaching my surroundings of color. A nearly deafening roar screamed out like a mountain toppling to the ground, but the force wasn’t flowing from around me, it was flowing through me. I could feel the energy surging through my body; it was electrifying.
The suddenness of the attack took Shard, and me, by surprise. The flow suddenly stopped as I fell back under the force of the recoil. I was afraid I’d missed the monster, but I managed a glancing blow. The cars fell to the ground, and I let out a small sigh of relief. “How-?” Whitney muttered, looking shocked.
Before I could try to stammer out an answer, Shard started getting up. His suit was torn and tattered, but what made my heart stop was the skin underneath. It was a web of black and blue necrotic tissue. I locked eyes with the man, and I saw pure hatred before he vanished in a swirl of energy.
“Nate! Help me!”
I snapped back to reality and realized what Whitney was asking. Corey still looked bad. I let my energy vanish and picked him up and was surprised at how light he was. “We have to get him to a hospital!” Whitney yelled at Erin who nodded quickly. “I can get him there fastest, give him to me, Nate.”
I nodded and carefully passed him to her as the first of the Argus trucks screeched to a stop. Erin’s glow changed to blue like it had been at the prison and she took off in a sprint, moving inhumanly fast. “Will you be okay?” I asked Ian.
He nodded slowly, “Yeah, I’m going to be fine, just a scratch. What about you?”
I looked at my own arm, and suddenly felt the deep cuts Morales’ claws had given me. A drop of blood crept down my arm before falling to the ground. “Yeah, I think I’ll be okay, just a little lightheaded.”
“Nice to meet you, new guy,” Adam said before a slight tremor passed through his body. He looked unsteady but managed to find his footing. “Oh, hey, Nate,” He said. “How’d we get here?”
“Are you serious?” I asked, looking at Ian and Whitney for an explanation.
“Just drop it,” Whitney urged, looking upset.
“Who’s in charge here?” I looked up to see an Argus soldier walking over to us.
“Our leader took one of our injured to the hospital, and we need medical attention too,” Ian said.
The soldier nodded, “Alright, take that transport there, we’ll secure the scene.”
I wished Asclepius was still around. The doctors had managed to stitch up my arm and Ian’s shoulder, but Corey wasn’t as well off. Somehow, Adam didn’t have a scratch despite the blood on his costume. I thought he should have his head checked, but I was told to drop it again.
Now we were all sitting in Corey’s hospital room, none of us in a talkative mood. Thankfully, Argus managed to get ahold of the Regents who rushed Animus over. A transfusion of his blood had kept Corey out of surgery, but it wouldn’t be a walk in a park for him to recover.
Our first mission, and one of us nearly died. Shard had mopped the floor with us. It was like he was just playing a game.
I looked down at my hands. How did I do it?
What else could I do?