“Come on, move!” Whitney tried to say, her voice still distance and distorted. She pulled me and Corey away from the fight, but something still felt wrong.
“Where are we going?”
“Shhh!” She hissed violently.
“Shut up and come on!”
“We’re gonna be okay,” Corey said, chuckling, “We’re gonna be fine.”
“Yeah, we will. We will,” Whitney said like she was convincing herself.
Wait…Was it Whitney? My vision blurred and swam, making it hard to make anything out. But then, it was like I had a moment of clarity; I realized who it really was leading us.
I jerked my hand free and tried to summon my energy, but for some reason the wall in the back of my head slipped out of focus.
“What are you doing?”
“Get back!” I yelled, trying in vain to use my powers.
“Nate, we have to get you help!”
“No, fuck you and your help! Get away; you’re fucking with my head!” My head was pounding, I didn’t notice it before, but It was so bad I thought I might pass out. My whole body felt light, like it was made of paper.
“Fucking with your head? Wait—who do you think I am?”
“What do you mean? You’re the Anarchist! What are you doing to me?”
“No, it’s me! It’s Whitney!”
“Stop lying!” I yelled, still trying to do something, anything, but I couldn’t think straight.
Corey’s chuckle had grown into hysterics. He was doubled over in laughter like it was the funniest thing in the world.
I had become so focused on Corey that I didn’t noticed the glowing rock until it was too late.
“Hey. Hey! Wake up!”
I jerked awake, and Whitney mercifully stopped shaking me.
“Are you sane again?” She asked, clearly fed up.
“Uh, I think so,” I said. I could see clearly again, and a quick self-check gave green lights across the board except for some aches and pains.
Whitney breathed a sigh of relief, “Thank God.”
“What was that? I mean, why was everything screwy?”
“Narcosis,” Whitney sneered.
“The chick with the mist?”
“Yeah. We met her briefly while you and Corey were on bedrest. She fucked us up pretty good; except for Erin of course.”
“What about Corey?” I asked, remembering he seemed out of his head too.
“I’m here,” he muttered from the other side of the room. His wings were awkwardly splayed out like he’d been unceremoniously dropped on the floor.
“Are we back in the Warehouse?” I asked, looking around.
“Yeah, I managed to drag your asses back here with a little help from Animus. He gave me some instant hangover cure and ran off to help the Regents.”
“Hangover cure?” Corey asked hesitantly.
Whitney nodded at two empty vials laying on the ground nearby.
“Oh God—why is being injected with another person’s blood starting to feel normal?” Corey asked. “No one mentioned this at the Academy.”
“Relax,” Whitney said, rolling her eyes. “People get blood transfusions all the time.”
“Yeah, but that’s done at a hospital with doctors, and nurses, and…”
I tuned out as Corey rambled about blood transfusions and climbed back to my feet. “-Don’t mean to cut you off, but we need to get back out ther-”
Before I could finish my train of thought, I was ripped into the air, and pinned against the ceiling.
“You know, ‘cut’ is an interesting word choice,” Shard mused.
Whitney lunged at the vials, but they suddenly shot out of reach, shattering when they hit a wall.
“Naughty girl,” Shard said with a wicked grin.
“Fuck off!” Whitney spat, jumping to her feet and charging. While she had Shard’s attention, Corey used his wings like a spring to launch himself toward the villain. Shard flicked up his hand, and Whitney lurched to a stop midair, like a marionette hanging from strings. Corey brought both of his wings down towards the telekinetic’s head, but a flick of Shard’s other hand stopped them with inches to spare.
“I thought you heroes were supposed to be somewhat smart, but you still think you can stop me? Well, maybe my gauge for ‘smart’ has been a bit…misaligned recently.”
Shard lifted his hands, and my friends gently floated to the ceiling. I tried to summon my energy, but the scarlet-haired villain was more alert than I thought.
“Tsk-tsk, Prophet; we can’t have that,” Shard said, his voice unnervingly dulcet. A knife with a long blade that curved to a wickedly sharp point appeared in a swirl of energy and pressed hard against my jugular.
I got the message and let the glow fade.
“Better,” Shard said, one corner of his mouth peeling back in a smirk. His expression was predatory, and I felt like the prey.
“I have a bone to pick with you,” He said, walking over so he was looking straight up at me, his eyes trying to burn holes in my head. Did he have laser vision? I suddenly worried. His eyes were like dim coals hinting at the power he had.
“Why? Because I kicked your ass in Chicag-” I croaked as I felt my throat tighten before I finished my sentence.
“Please, I left because Chess didn’t want me killing you yet.”
I was struggling to breathe, but this guy just grated on my nerves. “I…kicked…your…” Shard’s telekinetic grip on my throat tightened, and I couldn’t get any breath in at all.
“Stop it!” Corey yelled.
“No,” Shard deadpanned, his smirk transforming to a tooth-filled smile.
I had to get out of this, fast. My lungs were starting to burn for air; I looked over at Whitney and Corey, they couldn’t do anything. If only I had my energy…
Maybe I could manifest it around my throat first? It usually came from around my back or my hands, but I could maybe force it to summon somewhere else. Didn’t have much choice either way.
Story of my life.
Here goes nothing, I thought to myself. When I first used my energy on purpose, I had to force it, but now it was almost reflexive. I focused on my throat and felt the cold energy spread out a split second before Shard gave the knife a shove. The blade glanced off the blue barrier and before Shard could reposition it, the energy finished spreading.
I wasn’t done yet, though: I still couldn’t breathe! In a full panic, I slammed through to access my extra power, and instantly felt it coursing through me. My arms were pinned to the ceiling, so I fired a single blast from my palm. It wasn’t anywhere close to hitting Shard, but he still teleported away…
…Only to reappear a split second later and a few feet to the left, his powers still crushing my throat.
“That’s not going-” I didn’t stick around to hear what he had to say. In a last-ditch effort to get away, I ripped open a portal and let it envelop me. When I appeared in the forest, I was oddly standing up right, but I didn’t care. I sucked in air with massive gulps, the edge of unconsciousness retreating.
That monster was still with my friends, and I wasn’t going to let him lay a finger on them. Of all my powers, I had the least experience with my portals, but I hoped they obeyed like the rest did.
I focused on the odd feeling in my mind and felt reality tear open again. A spinning portal formed in front of me, waiting. Don’t chicken out now, Nate. They took a risk breaking you out, you can take a risk for them. You can save them.
Be a hero.
This time I remembered my energy wasn’t going to be there for me when I stepped through, so I readied myself to summon it as soon as I could. Then a thought struck me, where was the portal going to let out? Could I control that too? I tried focusing on where I wanted the portal to open; visualized it in the room. I was wasting time, my friends needed me. Here goes nothing, I thought as I took a running start through the portal.
As soon as I reached the center of the portal, I felt it start to fade and my energy shell start to form. Two steps carried me to the edge of the rift, as soon as I could see the room again, something slammed into the side of my head. Reliably, my protective shell cushioned the blow, but the momentum still knocked me off balance.
The offending object, a knife identical to the one used to threaten my life, flew back into a loose orbit around Shard. His ember-like eyes were glowing brighter as more knives teleported into the air around him.
“Fight me and they die,” Shard said, his calm voice only hinting at his anger. To prove his point, two of the blades moved threateningly towards Corey and Whitney.
“Or, you drop the suit, and the go free. I’ll make it quick; I promise: a simple blade through your skull.”
“Don’t do-” Corey said, Shard choking him without moving.
I didn’t know what to do. Would he really let them go? I doubted it, but I couldn’t save them…I wasn’t strong enough.
“Time’s up!” Shard shouted, raising his hand to send the knives flying.
“No, wait!” I screamed. I let the blue glow fade away; even if I couldn’t make sure they would be alright, I couldn’t—wouldn’t let Shard hurt my friends. My teammates.
I could feel Whitney and Corey staring at me, but I couldn’t look at them. Being noble, sacrificing yourself, it always seemed like an epic thing to do, but when you’re staring down the barrel of the proverbial gun…it wasn’t in the slightest.
For basically my entire life, I though my powers were ruining it, stripping any chance I had at being happy until I met the Pollards. They took me in, gave me a home…loved me. The entire time, I was terrified one slip up could ruin everything. And I was right.
But I became a hero, somewhat, and joined a team that I ended up betraying. Still, some of them forgave me. Their lives were at risk, but I had to do something. I owed them that much.
“Finally decided to act like a hero? What, did you get tired of being a turncoat?”
“Just promise you’ll let them go.”
“What’s that in your voice? Fear? Second thoughts?” Shard asked, sounding almost gleeful.
The villain’s burning eyes rolled in their sockets, “You’re no fun.” A knife broke away from the others and flew towards me.
This was it.
Or at least I thought so. A hand grabbed my shoulder a split second before the knife…passed through me? Shard’s eyes went wide as I glanced over to see who’d saved me.
“Hey, Prophet.” Ghost said. He sounded oddly chipper, and I couldn’t see his face through his mask, but I was sure he was smiling.
“Who are you?” Shard asked.
“I’m Ghost, one of the Regents. I’m the guy who can walk though walls,” He replied before turning back to me. “Sorry for the close shave, but Cypher was being…well, himself.”
“I thought you were supposed to be guarding my sister!”
“No, your sister is safe. Cypher wanted Quatermain and I waiting in the wings for…this I guess.”
“Hey!” Shard snapped; the lights flickering angerly. “Don’t ignore me!”
“Or what?” Ghost asked.
Shard’s face twisted into a grimace and the lights went berserk. Ghost sprinted to the side while Shard launched a volley of knives at the hero that all passed through him harmlessly. Like he was a character in a video game, Ghost bounded part way up a wall before leaping off it, putting himself in reach of my friends.
By the time Shard realized what Ghost was doing, it was too late. The Regent simply touched my friends, and they…fell—it was the best word I could think of—upwards through the ceiling.
“Fine!” Shard said, looking at me, “I’ll settle.”
My vision flashed blue, and when I came to, I was staring down the length of one of Shard’s knife that I’d managed to catch. My energy had manifested, and I honestly couldn’t have been happier to have it.
Shard wave his hand, and his powers flung me into the air. I tried to aim my hands for an energy blast, but shard slammed me into a wall like I was a broken marionette and he was an angry puppet master. My energy saved me from the worst of it, but it still hurt.
Then it got worse.
The telekinetic pulled his hand back, pulling me off the wall before slamming me back into it hard enough to crack it. I cried out in pain. He felt stronger than before, or maybe he was just pissed. Either way, I couldn’t take much more.
“Piss off,” Ghost’s voice called out of thin air. Shard looked around, trying to find the source of the voice. A gun went off and Shard teleported away, vanishing in a swirl of energy. I fell to the ground along with most all the knives that had stayed behind.
“You still in once piece?” Ghost asked, uncloaking a few feet away.
“Barely,” I said, picking myself up off the floor. “Are Whitney and Corey alright?”
“Yeah, they’re on the next floor catching their breaths.”
I let out a sigh of relief, “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
“Yeah, don’t,” Shard snarled.
I whirled around as Ghost was flung off to the side. I tried to throw a punch, but the lights flickered, and tendrils of red and black energy swirled around me. Suddenly, I wasn’t standing in the warehouse anymore; Shard and I were in the middle of a street, cars rushing past in both directions.
Some of them slammed on breaks when they saw us, but Shard didn’t wait for them to stop. He flicked a finger and I went flying back, hitting the back of a car that had skidded sideways. My lower back exploded in pain as I bounced off the now dented car. Writhing pain dug its claws into me, refusing to let go.
“I hate you.” Shard said, his voice low and unwavering.
“Why?” I groaned through gritted teeth.
Shard didn’t answer. Instead, he made a motion like he was crushing something with his hand, and a car that had been abandoned when we appeared crumpled slightly. I watched in horror as the car rose into the air and drifted until it was floating directly overhead.
I tried to fire an energy blast, but I couldn’t move fast enough. Shard slammed his hand down, and the car obeyed. My vision flashed blue, but when I woke up from autopilot, my whole body exploded in pain and I was flying. There wasn’t a flash to save me this time before I hit the side of a building.
My energy shell ruptured, burst like a balloon. I fell like a stone, hitting the pavement without any protection.
“Fuck!” I groaned. It felt like every bone in my body was broken. Shard hit me hard enough to break me, even with my powers.
I had to get my forcefield back. Shard would tear me apart in second without it. I couldn’t focus with the pain. The energy just fizzled around my fist.
“And now we have the hero. Broken…abandoned…pathetic.”
Shard lifted me into the air, spinning me around to face him. I gasped in pain, trying to focus.
“How does it feel to be a nobody? You were nothing but a pawn to get to Cypher.”
“Why are you doing this? What did I ever do to you?”
Shard’s face twisted into a snarl, “You hurt me! You did this to me!” He said, tearing part of his suit and the shirt underneath. I couldn’t see it all, but there was a large patch of scar tissue covering his chest and left shoulder: where I hit him with my energy blast…
Most of it looked healed, sort of, but there was still some necrotic tissue towards the middle of the scar. It looked like it was painful, I mean, the beams had managed to hurt the Butcher and she could shrug off hits from Vindicator and Wrath, I didn’t really know all they did to people that weren’t super tough.
But still…he was this hell bent on killing me because of that?
“And now, I’m going to make you pay,” he said, teleporting a dagger into his hand. But suddenly, he stopped, his gaze distant like he was focused on something else.
“-Are you sure? Well, alright then,” he said, the red in his eyes shrinking to just his pupils as he locked his gaze on me.
“That was Chess,” He said, tapping his ear. “And he just gave me the best idea I’ve heard all week. He told me how to hurt you in the worst way possible…”
I braced myself to be carved up, but the knife disappeared. Shard reached out and put his hand over my face. What was he-
Suddenly, I felt something force its way into my mind like an iron spike. My prophecies and vision took over my mind, and I’d felt the voice speaking to me mentally, but his was something completely different. Foreign thoughts roared like a fire, burning my thoughts and digging its way deeper inside. It was searching for something, lingering on some memories longer and abandoning others completely.
“There’s some serious damage in here,” Shard’s voice echoed through my mind. “Such a sad, sad life. I almost feel sorry for you.
Shard seemed to find what he was looking for as memories of my adoptive family were dredged up. They were scraps of things I hadn’t thought about in years: my first birthday with them, the time we went camping in Tennessee, the party they threw for me after I graduated High School…The list went on, but I realized he was scrubbing through my history of them, looking for the most recent ones. I remembered a bit of the dinner before the Gold Diggers showed up, and then the last time I saw them before I left to join the Argonauts.
“The cube? No, that won’t do. But…what about your sister?”
No! I tried to do something to force him out, but there was nothing I could do.
“You don’t know where she is? Well, where would she normally be? University of Illinois? Room 2532? Well,” Shard said, receding from my mind and letting me drop to the ground, “Just remember that it’s your fault she dies tonight.”
“Nooo!” I shouted, trying to grab him before he disappeared even though it was agony to move. Still, it was pointless; he vanished in a swirl of energy.
My heart stopped. There was nothing I could do. Shard was going to kill Ana…