Energy billowed over my skin, snapping and cracking with power as I brought my hands together. Hoping for lighting to strike twice, I unleashed a blast aimed straight at Judas. The difference this time, that I failed to account for, was that he wasn’t half dead.
Judas crossed his arms in front of his body, bearing the brunt of my attack like it was nothing. “Shit.”
Erin was the next one in the room. She charged the killer before he could reach the still recovering Chitin. “Don’t forget the dampener!” Adam yelled, firing one of his pistols at a box attached to the side of the hospital bed just as Erin’s red glow faded.
The villain punched and Erin braced herself as the dampener exploded in a shower of sparks. With the dampener destroyed, she managed to manifest her green aura a microsecond before Judas’ fist reached her. She might have been invulnerable, but Judas was still strong enough to send her flying back at us like a green wrecking ball.
Whitney and Corey ducked down as she slammed through the wall behind us. Onager—the guy with the steel orbs—sent three of his weapons flying. The seemed to levitate without any kind of normal propulsion I could make out. With a subtle twist of his hand, the orbs struck with lightning speed, rapidly nailing Judas in his knees, back and face.
I didn’t know how hard Onager could hit with them, but their sheer speed made them something I didn’t want to get hit with.
Still, Judas shrugged them off, looking more annoyed than hurt. He lunged at us, but a tower of Chitin’s power caught him in the air and drove him through the roof of the room. “Cedric, make sure Shinobi’s in one piece. The rest of you break into teams—stay close, but don’t trip over each other. We need to drive him out of the city and minimize the risk to civilians until back up arrives,” Shogun said.
Chitin and Onager were already moving to the nearest stairwell as Shogun pressed a button on screen built into a wall. “This is Shogun. We have an active Class II Metahuman Warning. Standby for upgrade to Class I. Sound the distress signal.”
After getting a disoriented Erin back on her feet, we ran upstairs. When we pushed open the door, we were met with a herd of Argus employees being escorted by agents armed with oversized dampener rifles.
“Will those even do anything against him?” I asked as we went past.
“The dampener didn’t seem to do shit,” Adam said, his own rifle in his hands.
“So, he’s fucking strong as hell, then.”
“Maybe, or he could be gifted,” Erin said.
“Aren’t you gifted?” Corey asked. “Dampeners work on you.”
“Yeah, but gifted powers are tricky. They call it ‘magic’ for a reason,” Erin said. She suddenly came to a stop at the end of the hall before almost barreling over a woman in a suit as she came around the corner.
“Get out of here,” Erin said to the woman as we turned down to the right. Bright flashes of dampener fire mixed with the sharp reports of conventional weapons as a few Argus agents tried to fend off Judas. His trip through the ceiling of the interrogation room didn’t seem to leave him any worse for wear. He looked animalistic as barreled through the agents.
The bullets just bounced off and the dampener bolts were about as effective as glowing foam darts. Some of the agents had quickly found out it was a losing battle and tried backing up, but Judas was too fast. Swipes and punches from him sent the agents flying into the walls and ceiling. If the impacts didn’t kill them outright, they would leave them with lifechanging injuries.
Fuck this guy.
“Retreat!” Erin yelled as she turned blue, racing to try and save the few agents still standing.
Corey came to a stop, not much use in the narrow hall, and put a hand to his ear. “ASET, he’s in hallway J.”
“Roger that,” Onager’s voice replied over comms.
The agents fell back as soon as Erin gave the order. Our leader barreled towards Judas and switched to her red aura. The killer locked onto the new threat, an unnerving smile on his face. He didn’t wait for Erin to make the first move. As soon as she was in range, he lashed out with a vicious punch. Erin snapped back to blue and easily ducked under the blow. Judas’ fist slammed through the cinderblock wall, leaving his defense down. Switching back to red, Erin launched an attack of her own, her fist striking Judas in the ribs and slamming him into the opposite wall.
I tried to fire a blast, but Judas was back in action before I could take aim. He and Erin exchanged blows back in forth like boxers locked in the fever pitch of a fight. I knew from firsthand experience how strong Erin was, but it didn’t seem to be enough against the scrawny, tattooed meta. He didn’t seem to be putting up any defense. Erin’s fists hit him over and over, but he just shrugged them off. Erin couldn’t be that careless; Judas’ attacks came too quickly for her to change her states, meaning she had to block as often as attack.
“Adam, I think we could use your other self,” Corey said, looking about as useless as me at that moment.
“Yeah, probably,” Adam said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him turn to the wall and slam his head against it.
“Woah, dude, what the hell!”
“Whoo!” Adam said, his voice sounding different, like it had back when we tried to protect Dr. Thatcher from Euclid. “It’s good to be back! What the hell is going on here?”
“Super tough guy with tattoos. We need to beat him,” Corey said.
“Adam?” I asked hesitantly.
“Right! I don’t think we’ve been introduced really, I’m Steven!”
Was this the alter ego Corey had told me about? It was like he was on a sugar rush—either that, or he just didn’t have an inside voice.
“Shut up and get down! Erin, Heads up!” Whitney yelled.
“Oh shit!” Corey said. Every square inch of the hallway was crowded with Whitney’s glowing lines. She turned the hallway itself into a giant bomb with us standing just a few feet away.
“Wow that’s pretty!” Ad-er-Steven said as Corey tackled him to the ground and shielded both of them with his wings. I threw myself down and covered the back of my head, hoping my barrier was tough enough to tank the blast.
The force of the explosion tore through the hallway in a blast of heat and noise. The energy whipped and rippled around me. Luckily, I didn’t feel dead. But that meant my ears were screaming with pain.
“Oh God,” I groaned. I couldn’t even hear my own voice, just a distorted muffle that didn’t do anything to the stabbing tinnitus. Getting up, I looked over at Corey and Steven who didn’t appear any worse for wear. Calling Adam Steven was just weird. Maybe sticking to Riot would be better.
I could see riot’s lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear any of it. Dark smoke choked out any visibility from further down the hall where Erin and Judas were fighting. A sharp noise startled me. Fearing it was Judas, I whirled to see Riot with a gun pointed at the ceiling. He mouthed something along the lines of ‘I heard that’.
Turning back to the hallway, I saw the vague silhouette of two people. One of them was tall and faintly glowing green, the other was shorter, and coming towards us. Please be Whit, I thought. Judas was out of my league as far as strength and combat, but I still took a fighting stance.
“That was a bit bigger than I thought,” Whitney said, stepping out of the smoke. I let out a sigh of relief, but still didn’t really relax.
“Yeah, no shit,” Corey said, looking at the damage Whitney had done.
Most of the smoke was gone by now, and Whitney’s attack had blown a chunk out of the building, scattering rubble on the street below.
“Damn that was hot,” Riot said, looking at Whitney instead of the massive hole.
Corey and I gave him a sideways look, but Whitney didn’t seem to notice. She had turned back and was looking at the debris on the street with Erin.
“Shit,” Erin spat. I walked over to look down for myself. A large chunk of cinderblock shifted as Judas shoved it off.
“What the hell was that?” Shogun called over comms, her voice a mix of anger and concern.
“I tried to blast him, but he’s a tough motherfucker. I did blow him out onto the street, though,” Whitney replied.
“We’re trying to minimize damage, Cinder. Norn, try to keep him busy, we’re heading down. The Dubliner is en route with the Guards of Britannia. The Russians are on standby with a support team.”
“Have you tried the Eagle?” Erin asked?
“Yes, but none of the Shield have responded.”
“You really think we need the Eagle?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Erin said, jumping down to the ground.
Corey launched himself airborne, but the narrow streets of the city meant that he quickly disappeared behind some rooftops as he circled the area. Whitney jumped down after our glowing leader despite the three-story drop. She detonated two explosions to slow her fall, but she still tumbled as she landed.
Riot let out a whooping war cry as he jumped with reckless abandon. Still, he managed to deftly land with a tucking roll like a master acrobat. That left me alone on the damaged floor. Three Floors wasn’t that far, right?
The energy will keep me safe, won’t it?
Cars, guns, boulders, and giant, armored speedsters hadn’t killed me so far; this should have been a walk in the park. I still got butterflies as I stared at the street below, though. I couldn’t let my friends put their lives at risk while I was too scared to jump.
Fighting my instincts, I stepped out into open air and felt gravity drag me down. I regretted it instantly, feeling my muscles tense and try to pull away from the asphalt rushing to meet me. As I was falling, I felt the energy around me jerk upward and rapidly slow me down to the point I landed on the balls of my feet for a good second before the pulling stopped and I landed completely.
It was another reminder that I really needed to figure out everything my powers could do. It was like my energy was a parachute or marionette strings slowing me down. I couldn’t really think of how to describe it.
“Nate, look out!”
The last think I saw before a dull pain blossomed across my chest was a fist with a glowing halo racing towards me. Judas’ punch sent me flying into the concrete base of the Argus building. I felt the wall fracture behind me as I tried to suck in a breath. It was like my chest was frozen or stunned. The energy survived the hit, but it was buzzing and humming like it was agitated.
Erin launched herself at Judas with vengeful intent. She switched between her speed and strength so quickly that for a split second, she looked purple. The villain turned to block her attack but didn’t expect her to close the gap so quickly, leaving him vulnerable.
Getting her first real hit in of the fight, Erin sent Judas skimming across the rubble laden street. Judas dug deep gouges into the asphalt with his fingers in an attempt to slow himself down. Just as he came to a stop, a massive pillar of thorns plowed out the front of the Argus building. Chitin’s power barreled over the meta like a merciless freight train.
“Are you alright?” Erin asked, offering a hand.
“Yeah,” I gasped once my lungs started working again. She easily hosted me up, looking at me worried.
“You sure? This guy has hurt some tanky fuckers.”
“I’m tougher than I look,” I wheezed. Truthfully, I didn’t feel much like joking. My entire ribcage felt like it was shattered and bruised.
Chitin’s massive javelin had slammed through a wall across the street. “Were there any people in there?”
“They should have been evacuated if there were,” Erin said, slowly walking towards where Judas was pinned with Chitin and Onager. Chitin had grown to the size I’d seen him when we first captured Judas and then some. Interlocking plates of thorns and organic armor that moved and shifted as he lumbered forward.
A sharp cracking sound came from the pillar as Judas emerged, splitting the material with his bare hands. He was covered in dust, but apparently still unharmed.
“Goddamn it!” Chitin bellowed. His armor seemed to unfold into a flurry of blades and spines whipping around like a giant living chainsaw. The giant lunged at Judas, trying to pummel him with giant fist. Judas struck back like he had in the interrogation room. For a moment it looked like Chitin’s fist would shatter again, but instead of cracking and breaking, it was like the layers of material shifted and expanded like woven wicker; the organic armor absorbing the force of Judas’ strike before shifting back.
The meta tried to raise a defense, but the speed and weight of the second attack sent him sliding across the ground.
We needed to keep him off balance. For now, he was on defense, but if he could focus on anyone, it wouldn’t be good. Before he could come to a stop, I tore at space with my mind, whipping up a portal around me as I plunged back into the Forest.
The Presence didn’t seem to care I was here this time since Auralux wasn’t with me, but I had still been slightly worried. Sticking to my plan, I ran forward a few steps hoping my judgment was good and turned around before opening another portal back to Stockholm. When I emerged, I was on the opposite side of the street looking back at where I had just been standing.
Fortunately, my timing was dead-on: Judas was flying past and I unleashed A blast of energy knocking him towards Erin. Her eyes went wide in surprise, but she acted quickly, and landed a devastating uppercut. Judas was launched skyward like a ragdoll vaguely flailing his arms as he tried to stabilize himself.
Then, Corey swooped down from on high and dove past the meta, slashing at him with his wings. He might have had tough skin, but a sharp metal edge slamming into you at those speeds had to hurt. Onager was the next to strike. A trio of the steel orbs few into the air before striking Judas over and over as he fell before coming together and slamming him down into the asphalt.
“The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me,” Judas said, almost laughing as he got back to his feet. “You are all so pathetically weak. Lie down and accept your fate. There is nothing—”
Judas was cut off mid-sentence by twin beams of narrow light hitting the ground at his feet. There was just enough time for us all to look where the beams were pointing before an explosion of green energy swallowed the villain. The billowing cloud of emerald energy seemed to slow and solidify, slowly flowing into a sphere around where Judas was standing.
“What the hell?” I asked, looking for the source of the light.
“The Dubliner,” Whitney said with a smile a dropship appeared overhead. It was different than the Torus or the ones Argus used with a tower symbol on the sides. A door on the side of the aircraft was opened, and a man in a green uniform was leaning out.
Is that The Dubliner? I thought.
The dropship didn’t land. Instead, it lowered itself near the ground and several people jumped out from the open door. The Guards of Britannia. And The Dubliner. He was on the shorter side, with a green and black uniform at seemed to have energy flowing around it. He looked to be on the younger side with a cocky smirk on his face and short black hair spiked up with gel.
“Little Whitney Snyder. Imagine meeting you here!” The Dubliner said in a pronounced Irish accent.
“Hey, uncle Quinn,” Whitney said, walking over to give The Dubliner a hug.
“Uncle?” Erin asked, looking between the two of them.
“Oh, I’m not her uncle by blood; just and old family friend. Speakin’ of which how’s your Ma?”
“She’s doing fine,” Whitney said quickly.
“Not to break up the reunion, but we have a job to do, Dub,” One of the Guards said. He was wearing a mechanical exosuit roughly styled after knight armor. Lancelot; the leader of the Guards.
“Right,” Dubliner said, turning back to the orb of energy.
Next to Lancelot, there was a woman with curly black hair wearing relatively normal clothes. I think she was called Holmes. I wasn’t sure of her powers, but before I could think on it more, I lost sight of her behind a tall man in a dark blue and grey suit. Bulwark; a powerful geokinetic. He had a neatly trimmed beard and a dark skin tone. Aside from his earthshaking powers, he was in the rankings for one of the physically strongest heroes in the world.
Then there was Indra; a white guy in what looked like monk robes reinforced with pieces of armor. Beside him was a man in silver head-to-toe armor styled after roman centurion armor with a white cape trailing behind him. Legion; the army of one. As I watched, dozens of glowing identical copies blinked into existence around him before fanning out.
Behind them was a girl holding a bow with a hood pulled over her head and a quiver full of arrows strapped to her back; Locksley. Finally, a figure levitated along next to them. He was wearing red robes with gold armor and an ornate helmet. Evangelion; bit of an odd ball if I remembered right. Two masses of light surrounded with black, white, and gold smoke drifted along next to him as more light and smoke formed around his hands.
“Any stragglers?” Lancelot asked as they took up positions around Judas’ makeshift prison.
“None so far, but the legionnaires are looking,” Legion said, drawing a steel sword.
“Chitin, Onager,” Lancelot nodded towards the two ASET members. “And you must be the Argonauts. Pleasure to meet you,” He said, looking at us quickly.
“Running a bit late.” I looked over to see Shogun walking out with Shinobi walking next to her. There was a sizeable dent in his armor, but otherwise he seemed fine. “I’m glad you’re here. He’s been giving us some trouble,” Shogun said, adjusting a grip on her weapon.
“I can see that,” Lancelot said, glancing at the damage. “You ready, Indra?”
“Not yet,” The man replied in an accent that was distinctly not British. It looked like he was cycling through martial art poses.
“Get ready, Guards! Dub, when you’re ready,” Lancelot said, readying his large sword and shield. Bulwark raised his hands and two large walls of asphalt and stone rose on either side of the Dubliner’s bubble.
“There’s no need for that,” The Dubliner said pointing a thumb at the sphere he made. “He’s not getting out of there any time soon.”
Suddenly, the sphere shook as something struck the inside. “See nothing ta worry about—”
As if on cue, Judas hand punched out of the prison as the entire construct faded.
“Alright, then. Let’s give this manky holy joe a good clatter,” The Dubliner said, firing more energy from his hands. Judas dodged to the side, but The Dubliner’s powers weren’t as straightforward as firing laser beams. Green energy spread out across the ground like emerald water where the blast struck the ground.
The Dubliner’s gaze stayed locked on Judas, and the glowing pool on the ground merged to a small point before another blast fired from the ground, striking Judas in the back.
Judas let out a sharp cry of pain and Bulwark struck, slamming his hands together. Both the walls of earth flew towards Judas. He managed to shatter the first one with a punch, but the second one caught him in the shoulder.
Legion rushed forward as ten of his copies formed around Judas and started wailing on him with ethereal swords. It took the villain a moment to gather himself, but when he did, he struck at the nearest duplicate squarely in the chest. The ghostly image vanished, but Judas focused on the charging hero, shrugging off the hits from the other dupes.
The villain lunged, landing a punch that sent Legion reeling. Suddenly, all the dupes vanished and Legion punched back. Judas reeled from the punch, stunned but otherwise unharmed. Then an arrow whistled past Legion’s head and hit Judas in the eye. The arrow bounced off, but Judas still hissed in pain.
Suddenly, Holmes was standing right behind Judas and fired a gun at the back of his head twice in quick succession. Judas roared in fury and swung, but his fist met nothing but air as Holmes seemed to vanish. I looked around for her, but she was nowhere to be seen.
And then I saw what she was doing. While Judas was distracted, Indra had run in close and squared himself for a punch. As his fist flew out, flames trailed behind his hand as a pressure wave formed on the leading edge of the strike. Time seemed to slow and stretch as the street turned just a shade dimmer. Odd shadows seemed to stretch away from everyone as a faint trail of energy seemed to flow from everyone near Indra, all converging in his fist. When he struck Judas, it was like a bomb went off.
Judas flew back with alarming speed as a sonic boom blew out glass several buildings down. A faint green energy swirled around Indra’s fist as he seemed to relax and stagger momentarily. Clearly, the feat drained him, but damn, it was impressive.
“Oh my God!” Whitney said.
“Press the attack!” Lancelot ordered. We ran after the hero and found him in a smoldering trench.
His chest was in terrible shape; ribs were poking through the skin as a river of blood ran down his side.
“Surrender!” Lancelot and Shogun ordered simultaneously.
Judas looked up at us and smiled through the pain.
The blood running down his side rose into the air and flowed to the back of his left hand where it seemed to burn a ruby red.
“And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.”
A second seal appeared in the circle of levitating blood, and just like before, the wounds seemed to evaporate away like it was just special effects. Judas stood up completely healed, and then he rose into the air, floating three feet off the ground.