Okay, the plan was simple. All I had to do was navigate a forest in another dimension with no point of reference and find my team who had their memories removed so they could infiltrate a metahuman cult that was currently under attack by people that tried to kill us before.
The dead forest…deadwood? Whatever it was, seemed as spooky as it always did. And it seemed that the presence didn’t have anything to say for once. My powers didn’t work here as usual, and I had no idea which direction to walk.
Picking the direction, I thought was right, I started walking. Eli…The Anarchist…I didn’t know what to call her. Was she a friend? No…no, I wouldn’t go that far. Her friends bit off my fingers and pretended to threaten my parents’ lives. But she was at least pretending to help us. She had Ian convinced, at least.
Even if we didn’t get along, I knew Ian was a smart guy. I trusted him, but if he ran into trouble…he wouldn’t last long.
The mist kept parting a few feet ahead of me in an almost welcoming way. Was it showing me where to go? I kind doubted it. There wasn’t any direction to it; it just kinda went wherever I was heading. “Hey, are you there?” I asked aloud, hoping the presence was feeling helpful. “Can you point the way to my friends?”
Nothing but silence.
I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but it was still disappointing to get nothing. There was no way I was going to find them like this. Even if it was a risk, I had to at least see where I was. Bracing myself, I opened a portal and stepped out onto one of the main thoroughfares. It wasn’t snowing anymore, but even I could feel the chill in the air. Whoever Chess was sending, they were coming fast.
People were shivering, and several looked like they had frostbite setting in already. There were a few pyrokinetics trying desperately to start some makeshift fires, but the flames were snuffed out before they traveled more than a few inches from their hands.
“Nate! There you are, where the hell have you been?” Quill shouted.
“Oh, uhhh…I just went for a walk.”
Quill sighed, “Nerves?”
“…yeah…” I said, deciding to roll with it. When this was done, I was going to see if I could get some spy training.
“Well, come on,” He said, motioning for me to follow.
“I really need to talk to my group—”
“—They’re where we’re going,” He cut me off, impatiently. “Savant and Edward have a better idea of what we’re facing. There are two people walking towards Idyllium, and at least one of them doesn’t mean us well.”
“What about the other one?” I asked, thinking it was kind of odd a villain sent to kill us didn’t want to hurt us.
“Savant didn’t say.”
And just like that, the usually chatty Quill turned back to business mode.
This was pretty much exactly what we didn’t want to happen, but I didn’t see another way out of this. I could vanish into my dimension again, but that would probably make me look very suspicious. So, for the mean time, I summoned my energy and got ready.
Quill led me to the north of the camp where the rest were waiting. “Where’d you wander off to?” Erin asked.
“I had to clear my head,” I answered.
“Then I hope it’s clear,” Erin muttered, looking at the faint orange glow in the distance with the others.
“So, we’re dealing with a pyro?” Whitney asked.
“Looks like it,” Adam said. His hand was hovering uneasily near his hip, probably subconsciously reaching for the gun that wasn’t there.
I knew Adam was a bit of a failsafe; he didn’t have his memories, but Steven did. I hadn’t really interacted with his alter ego much, but I knew that if Adam was knocked unconscious, we could force Steven out. That didn’t really seem like a good idea unless we had to fight our way out. Not to mention, they didn’t have their guns.
What if I shouted the phrase right then and there? It would look very weird, but it would put all of us on the same page. But it might alert Edward or Savant.
Fuck. Why’d this have to be so hard?
The sooner we extracted, the sooner Argus could send in backup, but would they even have time to send in an evacuation team?
I froze. I didn’t notice Edward walking up to us.
“You seemed troubled.”
Shit, shit, shit.
“Just nervous…” I managed to say, sounding kinda calm.
His brow furrowed, and I could almost feel him reading me like a book. This was it. I tensed up, getting ready to fight. There might be a spit second before the others realized what was going on, but then what? It wasn’t like I could fight all of them.
Then an idea struck me.
“Edward, can I talk to you in private?” I asked.
He seemed a bit surprised but masked it with a friendly smile. “Of course,” He said with a nod.
“And Quill, you might want to think about evacuating. How far can Luna teleport people?”
“As far as her fog goes. We already thought about that; she has her exit a mile and a half down the valley and extending as we speak.”
I nodded and motioned to Edward that I was ready to go. I didn’t have a plan yet, not a real one at least, and it was only a matter of time before he called my bluff. If he hasn’t already, I thought grimly. My mind wandered back to the vision that put us on Idyllium’s trail in the first place. Storm clouds were gathering overhead, and if anyone was going to turn Idyllium against us, it would probably be either Edward or Savant.
But why did Chess want an empath? He already had Eli, and she was one of the best telepath’s I’d ever heard of in terms of range. What made Edward special? The only time we’d ever really interacted was our talk in the woods, the same woods we were in now. I thought about the presence’s outburst and something seemed to click: the only other time it reacted to a person like that was with Auralux when…when she was in the other dimension. She had powers like mine and the presence didn’t like it…
“You know, I didn’t—”
I was going out on a limb, but I’d rather beg for forgiveness later than to be caught off guard. Before Edward could get any more words out, I turned, and called on my powers. Energy rushed through me as I fired a beam from my hand. It caught the empath in his gut and threw him back. He bounced off a tree trunk and sprawled on the ground.
Did I go too far?
Edward laid on the ground for a few nail-biting seconds, but then I heard him chuckle. He rolled over, and I saw a brief flash as a bolt of lightning arced off his arm. Now it was my turn to be flung back, my ears ringing from the thunderclap.
“I wasn’t expecting that…Prophet.”
Taking hold of my energy, I managed to stay upright, sliding to a stop about a dozen feet from Edward. I was right: he wasn’t just an empath. But that meant I didn’t know what he was capable of. I needed to end this, fast.
I brought my hand together to fire another blast of energy, but Edward vanished into a silvery mist. Luna? I wondered to myself. Turning to search for my opponent, I noticed the mist was surrounding me on all sides.
“Oh, now you decide to talk!” I mentally yelled at the presence.
My vision blinked blue, and I understood what the presence was warning me of: I whirled around just in time to see Edward looming out of a thick cloud of fog. A spike was protruding from one hand while the other was surrounded by sapphire energy—my energy!
I threw up my hands in defense and the spike glanced off, but the energy-clad fist slammed right through my barrier. Now I could see the rest of him as the fog rolled back. His skin was metal, just like Corey’s wings, with his left hand surrounded by my energy, and a mass of Quill’s spikes growing out of his right. And as I watched, I saw glowing lines begin to spread over the spines…
“So, you copy powers?” I asked, understanding why Chess wanted him.
“Bingo,” Edward said, launching the explosive volley.
I jumped up, using the elasticity of my energy to catapult me into the air. The ground where I was just standing boiled with explosions. That would have been bad. Still airborne, I aimed and fired twin beams of energy.
Edward stood his ground and let his metallic skin deflect the blasts. I felt the air almost tighten around me as I was flung to the ground in a powerful downdraft. The old weather guy, I forgot about him.
“I thought you were odd, but an undercover Argus agent? Ho-ho you suits are getting so bold. And wiping your memories? Who sanctioned that, Hollands?”
I could barely hear him over the howling wind, but it was clear he was enjoying himself.
“Oh, I really am!” He said as I slowly stood to my feet, the downforce of the wind making it hard to stand. Something suddenly slammed into my side and I felt my energy ripple under the impact.
What the hell was that? I thought to myself, looking for what hit my while trying to keep an eye on Edward.
“You remember Pam, don’t you? Pam from the supply building? Well, she has a very interesting power that lets her make invisible psychic constructs shaped like people.”
Another invisible fist sucker punched me in the face, mostly dampened by my barrier. It felt like getting hit with a dodgeball, enough to be surprising, but not quite enough to do damage. I fired a blind blast towards where I thought the attack came from.
Holding the beam at full power, I swept my arm to the side. It carved a path through the trunks and branches, turning them to necrotic ash before it slammed into something invisible. It scattered off something before whatever was blocking it seemed to vanish. There wasn’t any chance to celebrate, though: I felt a pair of hands close around my throat.
Panicked, I drove my elbow backwards and it felt like a balloon popped. Suddenly, I felt the pressure vanish from my throat, but Edward used the distraction to close the distance. His fist was still glowing with blue light as he drove it into my face. I saw red as my face exploded with pain. His skin was still metal and hurt like hell.
My nose was broken for sure, and probably bleeding. It felt like there was a burning hot anvil sitting on my face. I staggered back clutching my face, letting Edward drive his fist into my gut. It slipped right through my energy shell and knocked the breath out of me. I doubled over, gasping for air.
“You’re nothing without your powers, and there’s nothing you can do that I can’t. Every defense you build up, I can tear down. I mean; I’ve only had to use what? Five, six powers to beat you: a trained Argus hero?”
I tried to stand up, but I felt several hands try and keep me pushed down. This was the part I hated—getting pummeled by people stronger than me. Still, I was strong, especially with my powers. Lifting with my energy, I started to stand, only for Edward to chuckle.
“Maybe we’ll use one more to finish you off.”
Edward’s eyes crackled with violet energy and I felt a crushing weight press down on me. Dani’s powers? I could feel my organs being pulled down by gravity. I tried to stand again, but the force just got stronger and I started feeling lightheaded.
“I can feel how scared you are, your concern for your team…It’s endearing—almost. If I knew you wouldn’t try to stop me, I might let you live. But…I can’t let anyone stand in my way. I built Idyllium, puppet mastering every damn thing. Savant is a braindead bitch with a heart of gold; it was easy to play on her vanity and make her think she was doing something good for metas.”
Edward sighed, shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, Nate, but it’s time for you to die. I’ll disappear and keep collecting powers until I find the ones I like. Because, you see, I can’t just have any powers: I need to know the person and how they feel when they use their powers. Savant’s empathy helps with that, but it’s still annoying. Like you, for example; your powers scare you, make you feel guilty. If I tap into that…voila,” Edward droned on, engulfing his entire body in my energy.
“Oh yeah—that’s a bit annoying, but your ‘presence’ doesn’t do much on its own, does it? Anyway, it’s time for you to go…” Edward made a crushing motion with his hands.
I screamed out in pain as I felt the crushing pressure tighten from every direction. If I didn’t get out of here fast… Barely able to think though the pain, I tore open a portal. Instantly, the crushing pressure vanished, replaced for a split second by the sensation that I was getting ripped apart. Luckily, it passed quickly, leaving me writhing on the ground as my body slowly realized it wasn’t dying anymore.
“Oh god…” I groaned, trying to get back on my feet. I didn’t have time to lay down; I had to get to my friends. Edward didn’t follow me, even though he had my powers.
Either way, I didn’t want to stick around to see if he changed his mind. I started staggering off towards where the rest of my team was gathered. We still had whoever the hell Chess sent after us to deal with. I hoped Argus really had backup on standby.
After I felt I had limped far enough to make it back, I opened another portal only for my blood to run cold.
“There he is, he’s crazy!”
Edward was standing there, looking bruised and bloody, with dark blue patches on his skin that looked like they were practically rotted away.
He’d beaten me back…
“Uhh—shit, guys listen!” I tried to stammer.
“What the hell did you do?” Quill yelled, his spikes fully-grown and threatening.
“There is a red barn on the blue archipelago!” I shouted as loudly as I could.
Edward’s brow furrowed before shooting up in alarm. A look of understanding passed over my team’s faces as their memories came flooding back. Corey steeled his wings and interposed himself between Quill and me.
“What’s going on?” Erin yelled, looking between me and Edward.
“Chess is after Edward; he can copy powers!” I shouted.
Quill didn’t look convinced, but Edward looked furious. “You fucking assholes!” Whitney yelled, grabbing a pair of rocks off the ground and hurling them at Edward. His wounds seemed to miraculously heal as his skin turned to metal again. Whitney’s explosions didn’t seem to do much of anything besides pissing him off.
“Ed…?” Quill trailed off, confused.
Erin was the next to attack. She launched herself at Edward, quickly switching from her blue state to her red. Maybe it was his ego, but Edward didn’t do anything to defend himself against Erin’s fist. I mean, Corey’s metal was hard, but…
“Oh come on, that’s not going to—” Edward started to say.
When Erin’s fist slammed into Edward, he flew back, a massive dent in his chest. “He won’t stay down; we need to get out of here!” I shouted.
“Where’s Ian?” Erin asked, watching the direction she sent Edward flying off in.
“He’s hiding outside of camp,” I replied.
“Hold on, y’all aren’t going anywhere!” Quill shouted, looking utterly bewildered. “What the hell is going on?”
“We’re Argus agents,” I explained hastily. “Get everyone out of here. You don’t stand a chance against whatever’s coming!”
“Come on, we don’t have time,” Erin ordered.
“Why should I believe a word of what you’re sayin’?” Quill asked.
“Well, it might just be my personal opinion, but I’d listen to them…”
We all turned towards the fires in the distance and saw a guy in an old leather jacket leaning against a tree, lighting a cigarette.
“And who the hell are you?” Quill demanded, not sure who he should be focusing on.
For the first time, I heard the crackle of the flames in the distance and smelled the smoke—how’d they get so close so fast?
“No idea; he’s not with us,” Erin said, taking a fighting stance.
“Whitney?” Corey asked worriedly. I followed his gaze to our teammate who almost seemed to be shaking in fear. I hadn’t seen her like this even when we were up against Judas.
“B-brandon?” She stammered.