Animus’ blood must have still been working its magic. My body still hurt like a car fell on it, but I could at least move without screaming. The street was mostly empty except for a few people who didn’t run away screaming when two metas suddenly appeared and started throwing cars. They were looking at me, some of them looked concerned or sympathetic while others had their phones out filming. Still, none of them came to help, even though I was barely able to stand.
I focused on summoning my energy, and I felt it begin to flow from my back and across my chest. Something didn’t feel right, though. There were patches of the energy where it looked thin, and almost transparent. It was on its last legs, just like me. Still, I had to do something, I had to save Ana.
If she was still alive…
The thought hit me like a freight train, stopping me in my tracks. No, don’t think like that, you can save her…you have to. Wait. What day was it? Everything had kind of been a blur, but I was pretty sure it was Saturday. Maybe she was out with friends. It wasn’t much, but…it was a chance.
I could call to warn her if I had my phone, but during my whole “escaping Argus” thing, I left it in Switzerland. “Hey!” I called out to one of the bystanders. “I need to borrow your phone, please!”
“What?” She asked, looking surprised. “Uh…”
“Please…” I pleaded, letting my energy fade away. “I’m with Argus,” I explained, reaching for my wallet only to realize I’d left it—along with my ID—with my phone back at Argus Headquarters.
“-Please…that monster that kicked my ass—he’s going to kill my sister if I don’t warn her.”
My voice cracked with emotion, but I hoped it would help show how desperate I was.
“…Fine…just…give it back, okay?”
“Thank you!” I said, taking the phone. I dialed Ana’s number as fast as I could, praying she would pick up. Come on…come on…
Just as I was about to lose hope, the call connected. “Hello?”
“Ana, it’s me-”
“-Nate? Did you get a new phone?”
“No. Ana, where are you?”
“Uh, I’m at Ray’s. Why? Is something wrong?”
“Yes, someone…” I didn’t know how to explain this without freaking her out. But maybe she should be freaked out.
“Someone…what? Earth to Na-”
“-Ana, I’m serious—you’re in danger. Get Ray and get out of the city as fast as you can. Don’t tell anyone where you’re going, just leave.”
“Are you serious? I’m not going to just ‘leave Champaign’.”
“Listen to me, Ana! A meta is coming to kill you!”
“How do you-?”
“-Because he just tried to kill me! Look please, I’m on my way, just…go somewhere!”
Maybe it was the desperation in my voice that convinced her, but I heard her sigh, “Fine, but this better not be a joke!”
“It’s not, just please, go!”
“Alright, alright. I’ll go.”
“Thanks,” I sighed, hanging up and looking back to the lady I borrowed the phone from. “I need to make one more call.”
She rolled her eyes, “Hurry.”
I nodded and tried to remember James’ number. Before I could press the first button, I heard jet engines getting closer. I looked up to see an Argus dropship hover around the side of a building and make a beeline towards me. Floodlights burned to life, nearly blinding me as they swept over Shard’s destruction.
“Never mind,” I said, handing the phone back.
When it was still a few feet above the ground, the ship spun around and lowered its rear ramp. “Nathaniel Peterson aka Prophet, you are under arrest. Please come quietly.”
My heart sunk when I heard Erin’s voice. I didn’t have time to get into it with the Argonauts right now. Hoping it would avoid some unnecessary conflict, I put my hands up, well, I put my left hand up. My right arm protested when I tried, so I gave up halfway.
“Norn, listen, I need your help.”
“You, Whitney, and Corey broke out of Argus’ HQ and are wanted for questioning; I can’t help you,” She said, walking down the ramp with Adam behind her, carrying an assault rifle.
“Please, Shard is going after my sister!”
Erin and Adam exchanged a glance, but our leader’s face was set like stone. “No.”
She might as well have stabbed me in the gut.
“I’ll contact The Regents, but you’re coming with us.”
“He’ll kill her…”
Erin looked torn, but she didn’t relent, “Nate, you’re in no condition to fight.”
“I have to save her,” I said, summoning my energy. I felt tired already, but using my powers again drained me even more. “Come on!” I challenged, raising my fists.
Adam and Erin looked uneasy, but Adam took aim with his rifle. “Don’t do this, Nate,” He said. I couldn’t see his expression through his mask, but he sounded sympathetic, like I was something to be pitied.
“No! You are letting Ana die! Shard is going to tear her apart and you’re fucking telling me to let it happen? Fuck you, fuck both of you!” I screamed; my voice raw with emotion.
“Nate…” Erin tried to say gently, but I wasn’t going to waste any more time. I turned and took off sprinting. Even in my weakened state, my powers easily pushed my faster than any normal runner. Still, I wouldn’t reach Ana in time at this rate.
I had made it a few hundred feet before Erin caught up to me. I tried to ram her with my shoulder, but she was ready for it. The second I struck she shifted to her green glow and stuck out her leg. Before I could react, I slammed into the ground. My energy shell broke when I hit the asphalt, and I didn’t know if I had it in me to manifest it again.
“I’m sorry,” Erin said, her voice almost a whisper.
Shit. Why wouldn’t she let me save Ana?
“Let me go,” I protested as she hauled me to my feet. She wasn’t using her powers, which gave me one last desperate idea. I drove my elbow into Erin’s stomach. She exhaled sharply, but even without her powers; she was jacked.
“Fuck! That hurt,” She said, tightening her grip instead of letting go.
“I’m sorry—I had to…”
“Yeah,” She said, somehow finding a way to sound sympathetic and pissed off at the same time. Without any other options, I gave in. Erin half-led, half-dragged me back to the Argus dropship. Adam pulled off his hood and had his rifle relaxed at his side.
“Where’s your sister?” He asked, looking at me intently.
“Adam-” Erin began, giving him an odd stare. “-We have orders.”
“I know. But all Hollands said was for us to bring them back. He didn’t say we couldn’t split up to do that.”
Erin nodded, “Fine.”
“Well? Where is she?” Adam asked, looking at me.
Before I could answer, we all heard something rapidly approaching us. Erin pushed me further inside aircraft, enveloping herself in a green glow while Adam readied his rifle. A blur streaked along the ground, nearly instantly coming to a stop outside the dropship.
It was a person who appeared to be wearing high-altitude flying gear stylized into a costume; Peregrine?
“Sorry kids, but I’ll be taking Nate if you don’t mind.”
Yeah, it was him. The Irish lilt noticeable through his helmet. I hadn’t ever seen him in uniform before—usually he was moving too fast—but it looked pretty cool.
“-Orders, I know,” the Regent said, cutting Erin off. “And I have orders from Cypher so I’m really not asking.”
Erin was about to say something, but the world turned into a giant blur in an instant. It was odd and disorienting; I knew I was moving, but it felt like I was staying still. Was that Peregrine’s power at work? Once we stabilized, I felt some weight return to my body, and just a hint of wind rushing past my face.
“Hope you’re not scared of heights,” Peregrine said, barely catching his voice before it was ripped away by the insane speeds we were moving.
I glanced down and saw the ground hundreds of feet below us, tearing past so quickly I couldn’t make out anything specific. Peregrine few us along a line of red and white lights, following the highway south.
“Okay, now’s the time to listen, kid. Cypher hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but he didn’t know all the tricks the crimson-headed bastard had up his sleeve. Ghost was supposed to keep you safe, but the kid isn’t all that much of a fighter—but don’t tell him I told you that. Anyway, Cypher wanted me ready to get you to your sister incase anyone made a break for her.”
“But Shard already teleported, he’s going to get to her first!”
“Have a little faith, kid. Cypher doesn’t think Shard can teleport to places he hasn’t seen or been to before, and I’m brutal quick,” He boasted, putting on a burst of speed.
So, there was a chance, then. Still, I couldn’t stop from having the worst playing out in my head. If he laid a finger on her…I’d tear him apart.
“There!” I pointed at Ana’s dorm building. Peregrine angled us down without a word, but I quickly noticed he wasn’t slowing down at all. “Uh…Peregrine…?”
“Hold on!” The hero shouted. A spit second before we hit the ground, Peregrine seemed to roll and tilt himself upward. He slid to the stop along the ground like he was wearing socks on a polished hardwood floor. I felt like kissing terra firma when he let me go, but I had to get to Ana.
“This way,” I said, trying to remember how to get to Ana’s room from the last time I visited. Something was off, though. The memory was…fuzzy. I thought back further to when I helped her move in at the start of last semester and remembered it like it was yesterday.
“I think Shard fucked with my memories when he looked through them,” I said.
“That’s not uncommon,” Peregrine commented as we passed the building’s front door. It had been ripped off it’s hinges and tossed aside.
“Fuck, he’s here!” I said, running inside and up the stairs. Panic students were sticking there heads outside, looking at dozens of deep gouges that ran along the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling. Knife marks.
“Back inside! Everyone, get back in your rooms. I’m with the Regents; we’re handling the situation.”
“Move! Out of the way!” I shouted, brushing past a group of dazed students. I rounded the corner, and then another, seeing Ana’s room near the end of the hall.
My heard stopped when I saw the door ripped open just like the other one. Cops and paramedics were pouring in and out of the room. One of the officer’s stationed by the door noticed me walking towards the room. “Hey, wait, who are you?”
“He’s with me,” Peregrine said, pulling off his helmet and showing the cop his Argus ID. “What happened here?”
“Female stab victim-”
I charged past the cops guarding the door and into the horror show inside. It wasn’t Ana. Her roommate was on the floor, her throat slit, and her stomach cut open. Revulsion all but canceled out any relief that it wasn’t Ana. I couldn’t even remember her name, but she and Ana were great friends from what she told me. Seeing her like that made everything a hundred times more real.
“Did you know the victim?” I glanced at the cop, his words registering on a delay.
“Not really,” I said, turning to leave. “Do you have a phone?” I asked Peregrine.
“Yeah, here,” He said, pulling one out of his pocket.
I dialed Ana’s number, hoping she would pick up. “Damn it, Ana.” The call went to voicemail, and I looked at Peregrine, hoping he had answers.
“No…” I said, trying to guess where she would have gone. “Maybe…maybe she- she—fuck I don’t know what to do,” I stammered. I didn’t know where Ray’s room was, so neither did Shard. At least, he didn’t until he tortured and killed Ana’s roommate.
Maybe it was frenzied desperation, but I called out to the…voice from the forest. Show me where she is, please…
“We can start searching the campus and look for anything unusual. Maybe we’ll get lucky-”
Before Peregrine could finish, blue enveloped my vision. Eventually, the shifting cloud of color settled on a scene. I was looking down at a gas station just outside the city limits. A car had run off the road and was laying in a ditch. The vision shifted, and I was standing on the ground next to the crashed car. Ana was in the passenger seat, unmoving.
I wanted to run and make sure she was okay, but my body wasn’t mine to control. Like I was on autopilot, the vision turned me to look down the road. A cloud of darkness was rolling across the pavement, inky blackness reaching outward with grasping wisps of vapor. Around my body, a glow began to glow until it looked like a cold star was facing down the coming malice. Hate and anger poured into me as I saw a pair of red embers peering out of the mass of evil.
Suddenly, the vision ended, and I found myself falling, my legs not sure what they were supposed to be doing. In a flash, Peregrine grabbed my arm and stopped my fall. He eyes were wide, staring at me in a mixture of shock and awe.
“Are you okay, kid? Your eyes…fucking caught on fire!”
“I-I’m fine,” I said, nearly believing it myself. “I had a vision—I think I know where Shard’s going to catch Ana. Can you fly us there?”
“Point the way.”
My stomach was basically a lump of metal as Peregrine flew us low—and somewhat slow—over the dark farmland that took over rapidly once we left the outskirts of Champaign. I wanted to trust the vision, but a part of me was hesitant. They hardly ever showed me something good, and Ana didn’t look safe. Maybe it was leading me to something terrible.
“There!” Peregrine said, talking about the road. I scanned the road trying to spot what he had seen, but it took me a second to spot the faint burst of color. Shard—he was teleporting along the highway in hundred-foot intervals. He didn’t seem as fast as he did at the warehouse; maybe he was getting tired?
“He’s closing in on them, can you hit him with an energy blast?” Peregrine asked.
What? I looked further down the road and saw a lone car moving as fast as it could. It had to be Ana and Ray…
“Maybe,” I said. I tried to aim my hand at the road, but suddenly, it felt like I stuck my hand in a sandblaster. With the force of the strongest hand drier on Earth, wind buffeted my hand back.
“Careful, that’s as big as I can make it.”
So, he had some sort of forcefield keeping the wind from hitting us? Whatever it was, I didn’t have time to think about it. Carefully, I aimed again. I summoned my energy with more effort than usual, tapping into my extra power reserve.
Giving a silent plea to the forest voice, I fired.
The blast hit the pavement a few feet from Shard, doing nothing but letting the villain know we were there.
“Shit, kid that was terrible. I’ve seen Wrath have better aim than that.”
“Thanks for rubbing it in…”
Peregrine put on a white-knuckle-inducing burst of speed, diving towards the ground before leveling out and aiming for Shard. The telekinetic vanished seconds before impact, forcing the Regent to make a rough landing. He dropped me and I tumbled along the ground; I guess he figured with my energy I could handle it. Still, it didn’t feel great.
A swirl of smoke summoned a knife, but it wasn’t aimed at us. The blade flew past, puncturing the rear tire of Ray’s car. He swerved, veering off the road and into the ditch in front of the gas station from my vision.
Peregrine launched himself at a freshly appeared Shard, but the villain vanished before the hero could reach him. Shard reappeared, a knife floating alongside him. Before he could use it, Peregrine charged him again. “I’ll keep him busy; you get your sister to safety.”
I nodded, hurrying to reach the wrecked car as Peregrine and Shard played a slightly higher-stakes version of whack-a-mole.
Ray’s car was exactly the way I saw in in my vision. I hurried around to the passenger’s door and ripped it open. “Ana! Ana! Are you alright?” I asked, dropping my energy shell.
“Nate?” She sounded disoriented and confused. Did she have a concussion?
“Yeah, it’s me, I’m here,” I said, trying to sound calm.
“What’s going on?” She asked. “Where’s Ray—is he alright?”
“Stay here, I’ll check him.” Ana was alive, at least, and Ray was my responsibility too. When I opened the door, he didn’t react. “Hey, Ray, you okay buddy?”
“Is he alright?” Ana asked, climbing out of the car.
“He’s breathing,” I said. Fortunately, he groaned and stirred slightly. “I think he’ll be fine,” I said.
“What’s going on, Nate?” Ana asked.
“Someone wants to kill you to get to me,” I tried to explain as best I could.
“What? Nate, that’s crazy. Mom and Dad said something about you going off to do stuff with your powers in Switzerland, but…this…this sounds like a bad comic book.”
“I’m being serious!” I said, trying to think of a way to get through to her. “Look, Ana, I’m a…”
“…a what?” She asked?
The car’s headlights dimmed slightly before the car cut itself off altogether. “Ana, we need to move.” I glanced inside at the gas station, and the lights were flickering like crazy. I looked back to where Shard and Peregrine were fighting, and saw the hero go in for one final pass only to disappear in a swirl of energy.
Now that the hero was dealt with, Shard turned towards us, his eyes blazing red coals.