We were airborne, searching the barren landscape for anything that resembled a person. The windows of the dropship were small, so we had Corey fly outside and give us a wider view. We had to find him soon; there was nothing but rocks and short grass with the occasional lake. Not many places for a person to hide.
Still, it felt like we’d been looking for hours before Corey’s voice came over comms. “I think I see someone.”
“Roger that,” The Pilot called back, “We’re touching down.”
“Alright, everyone: get ready. Chitin and Erin will go in first in case our friend decides to put up a fight. Lethal force has been approved, but we’re supposed to take them in if possible. Shinobi will be standing by with the power dampener, but we need to beat them first, so we don’t end up dampened as well. Stick to the plan and everyone will come out of this okay, understood?”
We all nodded as the rear ramp lowered. Chitin finished up some quick stretches and took a deep breath before charging down the ramp. When he hit the ground, it was like he put on a burst of speed. The chitinous armor that gave him his name started to surround him, acting like stilts as he swelled to the massive twelve-foot behemoth form.
Erin followed right behind him, glowing blue as she matched his kinetic energy to keep up. It was almost scary to see how fast something as big as Chitin could move. There was a terrible scraping sound in addition to the thunderous footfalls. It was like he was using the armor like a powered exoskeleton; expanding and retracting the growths to give him a speed boost.
“Still your mind,” Shinobi said, putting a supportive hand on my shoulder. “Sharpen it to the task at hand and tune out distractions.”
“Right,” I said, summoning my energy. Time to focus. I ran after the front line, my powers subconsciously picking up the pace. Shinobi was perfectly keeping pace when I glanced over, his suit not making a sound.
Up ahead, I saw Chitin and Erin crest a small hill the blocked my view of the individual Corey spotted. Chitin gave an inhuman bellow as he leapt into the air, falling out of view. Shinobi and I made it to the top of the hill just as Chitin drove the suspicious figure to the ground.
He was only there for a second. With the blur, Chitin’s lower arm shattered into thousands of pieces. It instantly started growing back, but the figure had already scrambled back to their feet. It was a skinny guy, shirtless and covered in tattoos. Most of his left shoulder and upper arm appeared to be petrified, just like what Ian and Shinobi predicted.
Chitin threw another punch with his unshattered arm, but the guy batted it to the side, before pivoting around to throw a punch into Chitin’s armored chest. The impact created a shockwave, cracking the armor and launching the titan back. The killer’s face looked calm, focused on what he was doing. And then I noticed what looked like a disk of white light hovering just above the back of his right hand.
“I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself,” The main said, sounding like he was on the verge of collapse. Still, his voice was honeyed and eloquent.
Erin pressed the attack, throwing a punch just as he finished talking. Her aura turned from blue to red as her fist flew forward. The killer moved with a surprising burst of speed for his apparent state of exhaustion, catching Erin’s fist and stopping her momentum dead in its tracks. No way. Just how strong was this guy?
His mouth turned into a predatory smile as Erin’s eyes widened. She turned to her defensive green just as the killer jerked her arm towards him, driving a knee into her stomach. The strike launched her like she was weightless. I knew her powers would keep her safe, but it was still unnerving to see her so easily overpowered.
While I was frozen, Shinobi rushed past me, almost seeming to flow across the ground, one hand on his sheath, the other on the hilt of his sword. Once he was close enough, the hero lunged, drawing the thin blade with a flourish and raking it against the killer. Shinobi slid to a stop and whirled to face his opponent. It didn’t look like the blade cut him at all—the only thing I could see was a what might have been a thin red mark across his good arm.
“The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct.”
“Shut up already!” I said, bringing my hands together and firing a blast of energy.
His head snapped to face me, and he tried to shield himself with his good arm, but I managed to knock him off his feet and send him rolling.
While he was disoriented, Corey dove at him from above, steeling his wings and trying to slash at him. I’d seen him practice the move dozens of times, but this was different. It was like his wing snagged on something. In a bid to save himself, he quickly pulled his wings in, and used them to help himself roll across the ground before jumping up and taking to the sky again.
“He’s got super durability!” Corey called over comms.
“Indeed,” Shinobi said, keeping his distance as the killer stood up.
My blast had left a small splotch of dead skin, but that was it; much less than I was hoping for. Still, it looked like is left arm was doing worse from Petralith’s last attack. The petrification must have been cutting off blood flow to the limp limb. It was starting to turn an unhealthy shade of purple—he couldn’t keep this up for long.
The rest of our combined teams made it to the fight just as Chitin was getting back to his feet. The damage the killer had done was almost completely regrown. I hoped that meant he was still okay inside the mass of thorns.
“Stand down!” Shogun ordered as everyone readied their weapons and powers for another round of attacks.
The killer looked at us with intelligence, never losing the demeanor of a predator even though he was surrounded and outnumbered. “I surrender,” He said, calmly sinking to his knees and putting his good hand behind his head. “But be warned; my delivery from your hands will come swiftly.”
“Really? That’s it?” Whitney asked, disappointed.
“Deactivate your powers,” Shogun ordered, not lowering her sword.
“As you wish,” He said. I saw the white disk disappear from his hand, and he suddenly seemed to faint, falling unconsciously to the side.
“Shinobi, the dampener.”
The hero put his weapon away and produced a pair of damper cuffs much more streamline and compact than the ones I’d been put in before.
“He needs medical attention. Chitin, bind him up, Librarian, go to work.”
With Shogun’s orders given, the giant started growing extensions of his armor around the sprawled-out form of the killer while the lanky guy with blond hair knelt and placed his hands on either side of the meta’s head. Black, wispy energy began flowing from his hands. It looked strange and interesting at the same time.
“Stockholm Field Office, this is Shogun—clearance code Boon-Forte-Alpha—we need a medical team on standby and a level three holding cell prepped.”
“Roger that, Shogun. We’ll be waiting for you.”
The flight to Stockholm felt longer than the one to the research station. I was constantly waiting for the killer to wake up and start swinging. My fears seemed to be misplaced, though. Eventually the aircraft started to slow as we approached the Field Office.
I caught a glimpse of the city out of the window, curious about what it looked like. It seemed to sprawl for miles, though I didn’t see any high-rises like Chicago. Part of me found it kind of funny that I was supposed to be on an international superhero team, but I hadn’t really gotten a chance to visit anywhere outside the US. Unless you counted Durban when we investigated Shard’s bloodbath at Site II.
Not to mention, Argus’ headquarters was in the middle of Switzerland and I hadn’t been into town once. Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure what city HQ was even in.
“Hey, Corey,” I said, getting my feathered friend’s attention, “What’s the name of the city next to HQ?”
He gave me an odd look, “Zürich. Why?”
“No reason; just couldn’t think of it. Thanks,” I said, looking back to the view from the window as we descended towards the squat Argus building.
Corey grinned and shook his head as we touched down.
ASET started moving immediately, prepping the unconscious meta to be moved. “What do you want us to do?” Erin asked, getting Shogun’s attention.
“Try to relax for a little bit, but stay nearby. This guy has managed to send more than a few heroes to early graves. I don’t want to take any chances.”
Erin nodded and led us down to the roof where we watched an entourage of armed guards and medical personnel meet ASET and lead them inside.
“Does no one think the supposed cold-blooded hero killer went down a little easy?” Whitney asked once it was just us.
We had migrated to the edge of the roof, leaning on a guard rail and watching the people walk down the street.
“Petralith’s power did have him fucked up,” Adam reasoned.
“No, it was still very easy,” Erin agreed.
“Are you saying this is some kind of trojan horse scenario?” Corey asked.
“I dunno. All I’m saying is it doesn’t add up,” Whitney said.
“Even if he did try to fight everyone, there’s no way he could win, right?” I asked. “I mean…what kinds of powers could let him do that?”
“Well, he was strong—I can tell you that. Maybe as strong as me,” Erin said, looking uneasy.
“Even if he was, I don’t think that would let him beat all the heroes he’s accused of killing,” Ian cut in.
“Could we do some research and see if we can figure out what he can do?” I suggested.
“I mean, they have him in custody, and there could always be something we don’t account for,” Erin said.
“Yeah, but what could it hurt letting Ian see some records and seeing what he can come up with?”
Ian looked at me with a curious expression—probably trying to figure out if I was playing some kind of angle. Honestly, I wasn’t; he just seemed to be the brains of our group, other than Whitney who seemed to always come up with good ideas on the fly. Maybe academic was the better word to describe how Ian fit in?
“Are you up for it?” Erin asked Ian, who shrugged.
“Sure, like Nate said: what can it hurt?”
“Shogun says they have the Killer in emergency surgery. Some the petrified tissue is dangerously close to his heart, apparently,” Erin said, joining us in a small lounge area we invaded so Ian could do his research in relative peace.
“Trying to save villains like that always seemed a bit counterproductive,” Whitney mumbled, sprawled out on a couch.
“Can’t get information out of him if he’s dead,” Ian said. “He could have had an accomplice, or be working for someone…” He trailed off as he scrolled through news stories on his tablet.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Whitney said, tossing up one of the steel ball bearings from her pouch and catching it over and over.
For a while, we sat in bored silence, staring out the window and looking at our phones until Ian grabbed out attention. “This is pretty interesting.
“So, our friend is suspected of killing that group of villains in New York—twenty-two villains in one night. Impressive odds, even for the likes of the best. But it gets more interesting. They were all confirmed by Argus to be suspected members of Epikos: a team with Greek letter inspired names. They weren’t just some average street metas. These guys squared off against the Guards and Sentinels before.”
“Not to sidetrack the conversation, but doesn’t the Greek alphabet have twenty-four characters?” Corey asked.
“Yes, two of their members were killed by some local team a few months back. But like you said—let’s not get sidetracked. These guys had a whole gambit of powers, and it looks like they fought together as a group.”
“That means if our guy was the one that fought them, he would have to fight against almost two-dozen metas with unique powers al at once,” Whitney said.
“Could someone manage it with just super-strength?” Adam asked.
“Against some of these powers? Not likely,” Ian said. “Epsilon was highly adaptable, almost like putty. He was basically immune to physical attacks. Not to mention, there were others who would be difficult to take down by just throwing punches.”
“So, he has more powers?” Erin asked.
“That, or an accomplice,” Ian said again.
“Either way, I think It might have been a good thing Shogun kept us around,” I said.
Ian nodded, “And something else, the timing between these kills is surprisingly short. He might be able to fly.”
“Great,” Corey muttered, “What else can he do?”
“Looks like we’ll find out,” Shogun said, appearing at the door. “The suspect is out of surgery and the doctors will be waking him up soon so we can question him.”
The Interrogation room was separated from the observation room Shogun had led us into by a thick pane of one-way glass. It was similar to the one they locked me up in, except the table with the power dampening cuffs had been replaced with a hospital bed that tilted the prone and restrained killer into an almost standing angle.
He looked like he was just coming to; probably a bit numbed by the pain medication. The petrified tissue was still there, but there was a red area near his heart whey had stitched him back up after surgery. The most shocking thing was they had amputated the left arm, revealing the petrification had spread straight through him.
Shogun and the blond guy—Librarian—were sitting a few feet away from the restrained meta. I didn’t feel the telltale buzzing that usually came with power dampeners, so I tried to use my powers. Sapphire energy engulfed my fist faithfully, calmly flowing around it like water.
“What’s that for?” Corey asked.
“I just thought they would have a power dampener on.”
“The restrains have a very short-range dampener effect, but they don’t want to dampen the entire area so Librarian can use his powers,” Shinobi said from the corner of the room. I hadn’t noticed the suited hero. He was standing inhumanly still, looking at the interrogation room with his arms crossed.
“And what are Librarian’s power?” Whitney asked, looking between Ian and Shinobi.
“He’s a telepath of sorts, capable of reading and removing memories,” Shinobi explained.
No wonder he was on the team, I thought.
“Where am I?” The killer asked, looking around like he was only mildly interested.
“You are in an Argus Field office, and we have some questions for you. First, what is your name?”
“Judas?” Shogun asked.
The man nodded.
“Funny, facial recognition gave us the name ‘Tyler Gibson’. Care to explain that?”
Judas shifted uncomfortably. “That was my name, at one point.”
“Okay, Judas, you are being held under suspicion of multiple counts of first-degree murder, illegal power usage, and destruction of property. Do you deny these charges?”
“You admit to killing metahumans in cold blood?”
“Yes; I helped them find salvation.”
“What do you mean, ‘salvation’?” Librarian asked.
Judas turned to look at him. “Salvation from their blasphemy.”
Shogun and Librarian exchanged glances. “Our files show no record of you being a mutant. Did you receive powers at some point after birth?”
Judas nodded, “I was given power to carry out God’s will.”
“Would this have been around the same time your hometown was wiped off the map?”
“Exactly the same time.”
“I didn’t hear about any towns being destroyed,” Ian said to us.
“Argus buried the news—Elko Montana was destroyed by a massive, unidentified blast of energy two years ago. Nothing was left but a molten crater and unanswered questions. We kept the media away and used Librarian and some other telepaths to tie up loose ends,” Shinobi explained.
“Making Orwell proud, as usual,” Whitney muttered.
We turned out attention back to the interrogation.
“It says here that you were a pastor, leading the same church your father pastored.”
“You have good information, then. That’s correct.”
“Was that how you were ‘given power’ to serve God?”
“I prayed, and a voice answered, speaking as a thundering legion. God gave me what I needed to end those who thought themselves above his will.”
“And it was God’s will to destroy Elko?” Shogun asked, pressing him.
Judas’ face fell. “It was unfortunate; they did not see that my power was heaven-sent. They rebelled against the will of God, and I had to bring them salvation.”
“Salvation? You killed them.”
“Yes. I sent them before God to repent before the error of their ways could lead them to damnation.”
Shogun and Librarian exchanged another glance. “He’s telling the truth, or at least he believes everything he’s saying,” The well-dressed hero said. Shogun furrowed her brow as she though for a moment, ceaselessly rapping a pen against the edge of the small table that held her notes.
“How many people have you killed?”
“Fifty-four. Most were blasphemers, but some were…sacrificed to redeem my abilities.”
“And what exactly would your abilities be?”
“I am the revelation of God’s wrath.”
Shogun was silent for a moment. “As per the precedent for similar violations of the Accords, you are sentenced to life in Site III without the possibility to be transferred.” She stood up and quickly gathered the papers in front of her, motioning for Librarian to follow.
She joined us all in the observation room that was quickly starting to feel cramped as the rest of ASET came in after her. “What do you think, Cedric?”
“He has several screws loose; no remorse for any of it,” Librarian said, slowly shaking his head in contempt.
“Was he working for anyone?” Ian asked.
“Not that I could tell. He doesn’t have any memory of anyone close to him in over a year,” Librarian replied.
“I don’t like this,” Shogun said, stroking her chin. “Fucker managed to kill Petralith and Samnite. Why is just lying down and taking this?”
Before anyone could come up with a descent answer, Adam’s voice jerked us into action. “Why is there a guy in there?”
We all whirled to see one of the doctors walking towards Judas, who was eyeing him suspiciously.
Shinobi’s hand flew to the intercom, “Baka, what the hell do you think you are doing!”
Chitin grew a shell of armor around his fist and used it to shatter the glass partition just as the doctor undid the restraint holding Judas’ remaining hand. Without hesitation, the meta lashed out, rapping his thin arm around the doctor’s neck, who seemed to suddenly realize what was happening. The man struggled, letting out a gurgling scream as he was spun around so the crook of Judas’ elbow rested over his throat.
“Let him go!” Shogun yelled. None of us charged, trying not to provoke the madman.
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.”
I felt my eyes widen as Judas gave a merciless jerk, breaking the man’s neck with an audible snap.
So many things happened at once. Chitin and Shinobi vaulted into the interrogation room as a wave of white energy surged from the dead man’s chest, settling into the white circle I saw over Judas’ hand when we first found him.
In the split second before Chitin reached Judas, the air around his left side seem to shimmer, and like an illusion being lifted, Judas’ left arm materialized while the new cut on his chest from surgery disappeared like it was special effects makeup being wiped away. The petrified flesh vanished too, as every cut and bruise on his body seemed to heal.
The dampener seemed to stop Chitin from growing any more armor, but his fist was already a mass of thorns four times its normal size. He swung at Judas who had torn through the straps holding him down like they were toilet paper, throwing a punch of his own that shattered Chitin’s fist.
Shinobi drew his sword with practiced precision, swinging it at Judas’ neck. The meta reacted with nearly inhuman speed, striking Shinobi in his midsection with the back of his hand. The mechanized hero flew back, crashing through the wall into the next room.
“Your salvation is at hand.”