Saint’s angels moved in formation, and that was spooky to see. One suit used its wings to defend another not like it was automatic or robotic, but like it was a friend that had fought alongside its partner for a long time. The movement itself was through the use of tinker tech, and in a confined space, however large that space was, that tech made the air and empty space around us into a hostile, pained, windless force.
Windless because wind went from point A to point B. It could twist, turn, and get caught in itself. This wasn’t that. This was hover technology creating pressure, flight technology creating distortion, and antigrav technology that let three mechanical angels the size of small planes remain in place in the air.
Electrolysis could chemically break down water. Gas bubbles would form out of nowhere. I imagined something similar was happening here. I could fly in rough winds and it would be a hassle, but as I flew over to cover, it was choppy as though I was flying through fireworks without the heat, noise, or smoke. A counter-force hung in the air that drove me uniformly down as the suits moved up.
The winged suit unfurled its wings as it twisted in the air, more acrobatic than the other two. Each wing was made of slats, top and bottom ends set at diagonals, each slat connected to the next, getting larger as they got further from the main suit. With the unfurling, the wings glowed, and the slats replicated with projected images, each added slat taller than the last, with the final segments punching into the ceiling and floor both, right by the door. Our group scattered, cut in half by the image. The glow of the projected wings faded a second or two after the ‘impact’, but the damage remained, and a combination of smoke and concrete dust served to cloud our vision.
We took what cover was available. Filtration systems the size of four-story buildings were spaced out around the ‘room’, pipes big enough to drive a truck through feeding out of those systems into wall, floor, and ceiling. The domed ceiling high above us, accommodating the structures, and concrete fences were set here and there to ward employees away from dangerous parts of the structure.
Those concrete fences were our cover, until Tristan got something more put together.
I took the weird route, flying out and closer to the incoming fire from the tinkers on the ground, letting the Wretch take a hit, then grabbing the concrete fence, maneuvering myself into a spot between two capes. Fume Hood and the harpoon guy.
Fume Hood reached a hand in front of her and three orbs appeared, manifesting from a place I couldn’t see on the far side of her hand, then circling around, small yellow-green moons in orbit around her hand.
She clenched her fist, and the orbs flickered, grew darker, a bit more misshapen.
Fist relaxed, her index and middle finger extended. The three orbs flicked out, until there was one at her fingertips, another a couple of inches past it, and a third another couple of inches past that. She twisted around, flinging her arm and peeking over cover in the same instant.
I had a glimpse of it as I abandoned my spot and flew over to where the smoke was clearing, Sveta was helping Rain get past the broken ground. I was their human shield as they hurried to the concrete fence. Off in the distance, Fume Hood’s shots hit home. A dark green smoke covered the thralls at the top of one of the filtration systems.
Rain and Sveta squeezed in to spots along the curved concrete fence, tall enough to sit against or crouch by, not so tall that we could stand without head and shoulders in plain view. Some other capes hurried over. They might have been from Stonewall’s group. We got some Heartbroken too. Samuel, Chastity.
A hundred feet away, Ashley, Capricorn, and Caryatid were at another fence, with Gong and Prong’s squad and the remainder of the Heartbroken. Balk’s squad was split between their fence and the next.
Past that, I could see Withdrawal with Balk’s squad and some members of the Advance Guard. It was a contrast, and it worried me, because I knew he was more evasive than aggressive, and that group was aggressive.
Sveta grabbed my wrist and pulled me in closer, distorting in shape to give me room. Rain didn’t have a lot of cover to himself, and hunkered down. His recently repaired arm looked pretty ramshackle, with one of Love Lost’s claws bent and turned into a panel across the back of the hand.
I looked up, and I saw the filtration system nearest us. A juggernaut of thick pipes and tanks.
“Harpoon guy, your name?”
“We might need to go up. Can you give us your harpoons to hang on to?”
“Can’t leave ’em limp and dangling, if that’s what you mean.”
“Can you shoot at something higher up, and let people climb?”
“Incoming!” someone called out. “Scramble!”
It took a fraction of a second to locate the voice, another fraction of a second to realize they were talking to us.
I gripped the concrete fence, glancing over, my hair getting in my way as it momentarily floated like I was underwater. I could see the robed suit orienting, a sword as long as two eighteen wheelers stuck end to end pointing our way. Before, it had glowed like it was metal fresh out of the forge. Now it was white.
My heart did something between a flip-flop and dropping out of my chest. Sveta, Rain. Even Fume Hood.
Impulsive, I flew over, and the act of flying in this environment was like moving while underwater. I activated the Wretch a hair before it was safe to do so, and felt it hit the concrete barrier.
The sword became a beam, as wide as the aforementioned trucks. The Wretch took the hit, and my forward flight was arrested, stopped.
Hold strong! I thought, as the Wretch absorbed and deflected the incoming fire. It wasn’t large enough to block everything, and some of the beam scattered, hitting the filtration system.
Hold, damn it!
When the world had ended, the mind controlling entity that had seized us all and coordinated us for one phase of the attack had used me for this purpose. To take a hit from Scion. It had been almost absentminded.
The beam from the mech suit’s sword tapered off in the same instant my instincts told me to get the fuck away. I rolled off to the side, and the Wretch flickered out and died a moment later.
It had always been better against sustained pressure than the single blows.
I took cover along the side of a pipe. Water and steam gouted out of multiple places in the filtration system. The cover was demolished, and my teammates gone. Water rained down from above, cold enough to make my skin contract, while steam rose from above.
My forcefield took some time to return. I moved slightly away from the tank I was using for cover as it did.
I had a view from the inside of the multiple heads, multiple limbs, legs. There were naked breasts and segments that aped the length of unclothed torso, waist, and hip.
The expressions on the faces were calm, solemn. They had hair – all hair as long as my own, even though I knew that all but one head of hair had been cut short during my tenure in the hospital.
Grapnel had fired up along the side of the building, and Sveta had hauled some people up, using the harpoons as holds. Rain, Chastity, and Fume Hood were perched on top of a pipe. Samuel was a bit lower. Wide as it was, a slip could lead to a dangerous fall. At least for Fume Hood.
Capricorn was attempting to make more cover, I saw, but the lights drew attention. Some of that attention took the form of shots from thralls who were no longer blinded by the choking smoke. More importantly, that glowing sword was pointed again.
I took flight. The Wretch was in plain view for anyone who took the time to look. I couldn’t afford to dwell on it, so I let it fall to the back of my mind, as a dim awareness of regrettable fact.
The left-hand wing of the winged suit extended, sweeping forward. A wall of what seemed like forcefields, extending between the group and their path of retreat. Extending in my way, so that I crashed into it, hard enough that the Wretch was canceled.
The wing-wall remained intact after I collided with it. I tried to find a way around, only to have a shot from a tinker’s cannon pass within arm’s reach while the Wretch was still offline.
I backed off. Sustaining big hits like I had killed the Wretch’s stamina, made delays longer for a while after. I had to trust they had things handled. They had Wardens with them.
Panels of the wing faded out, just in time for the laser to fire into the gap. Coordinated effort: cut them off, fire.
Forcefields were raised- I saw Sarah’s purple one, two others. They didn’t last three seconds. The sword’s beam cut a furrow into the ground, sliced into the wall, and caused a fifth of the lighting in the room to go dark as it shredded wiring.
In the wake of it, I could only make out Stonewall and Caryatid. Everyone else had fled.
The problem was that fleeing to use the bigger structures as cover meant, well, we had to get around or over those structures. The space was huge and the angel mechs were distant.
Balk had used the distraction of the angel mechs attack to fly around and over, flying low to the ground as they closed the distance.
The angel with the massive halo extending from hips to overhead had been mostly passive to this point, flying in formation to stay with the group. As Balk launched his offensive, the halo emitted lasers. One for Balk’s ball, one for Balk himself. Another for the artillery cape, another to meet a laser beam cast by Sarah, the woman who was and wasn’t my aunt. The angel suit’s beam was more powerful, and though the two beams collided with a small starburst shedding vast amounts of sparks in the center, the point of collision raced toward Sarah until she stopped firing. When she stopped, the counterattack stopped as well. Wholly automatic.
But her flying momentum and her group’s formation carried her into the range of the beams. A forcefield protected her and some of her group, but only for a moment before the beam punched through. Another, thicker, smaller forcefield protected herself and those closest to her, while those at the edges were left to fend for themselves.
It bought her and her formation seconds. Seconds to divert flight paths, to back off, to realize that anything that got close enough would be zapped automatically, whether it was an attack or a cape.
They didn’t get to divert. A wing extended, a barrier of hard-light panels extending the wing’s profile, and blocking off the retreat. Keeping them in the laser’s area. With the angle and the blur of the glowing panels, I could see only the vague darkness of the forcefield, see the forcefield drop away, and then see the points of light where the ten or so beams cut right through the ten or so capes.
“No!” I shouted.
As if to answer my shout, a barrage of fire from the assembled thralls struck the same filtration edifice that Rain and Sveta were perched on, that I was using for cover. Sparks and ice crystals flew as shots ricocheted off the edge of the pipe I was hiding behind.
“Stay close, Victoria!” Sveta called out. “We need you!”
I peeked, and I saw the wing barrier drop. With it, the blood that had stained it was shed, allowed to fall to the floor. Capes who had been flying just a bit before now tumbled to the ground.
I could see Sarah flying at an angle as she fell. Going to others who were unconscious or unable. To Balk, then abandoning him a second later. He continued to drop, and the rotation of his fall gave me a glimpse of what she’d just discovered for herself. Head gone.
Another with a zig-zag cut from right shoulder to lower left ribcage. The artillery cape joined Sarah in grabbing someone. As a group, they flew away, low to the ground again, weaving around pipes as thralls with tinker guns fired at them. Forcefields were erected behind, alternated with artillery shots that imploded, pulling projectiles off course.
Fume Hood produced more gas pellets. They did a u-turn in the air to travel the path necessary to bombard the thralls.
One shot, I saw, had been intercepted by a laser, because the halo angel had drifted close enough to the thralls to give them some cover from fire. The gas cloud hung high in the air, distorting with the effect of the tinker flight so near by. Like drops of ink in boiling water, instead of still or running water.
What to do? Couldn’t get close. I could maybe take one beam long enough to close the distance and deliver one hit. Maybe. Then what?
I hadn’t let the Wretch drop since it came back online. It was clawing at the pipe, unable to get quite enough traction to destroy the massive pipe I was hunkered down beside. With the moisture in the air and the hints of steam from below, the Wretch was plainly visible.
I reached out for the crook, the handhold, and I moved the Wretch, respective to myself. It put a face closer to my face, and put most of the arms out of reach of the pipe.
Rain, Grapnel, Sveta, and the Heartbroken had been climbing up, with Fume Hood alternating between climbing and hurling more spheres. I saw her look at me, and I looked away. Elsewhere, Capricorn was building up cover and creating a means of climbing the tank. He looked too, staring up at me. Ashley was more focused on the fight, staring around the corner at the distant angel mechs.
Not so distant. They were drifting slowly our way. The sword fired its beam at the third group.
Shitty thing was, I didn’t have many options. I could stick near one of the filtration systems and use it as cover, but then any attacks on the group using the other filtration system closest to the door were beyond my capacity to help. If I was between them to better my chance at responding, then the thralls with tinker weapons would gun me down. If I charged in, the halo would shoot me.
Tinker guns fired like assault rifles, each shot producing electrical crackles, blasts of ice, and acid spatters. One shot hit the pipe I was using for cover, and it shattered the metal. Water came out the hole in a vicious high-pressure spray.
I saw the orb fly low, almost scraping the ground, before rising. Curving in the air, but this time a rising shot. It skirted the halo’s range, and it collided with a bit of filtration structure a few feet below the thralls. The gas made the middle of the front lines back up a bit.
“Fume Hood!” I called out. “Experiment for me!?”
“Create gas, block the halo’s view? Fire a shot through once it can’t see!”
Rain threw one of his blades blind. Lightweight as they were, it was a long way to throw, and he was hurling it over the top of the structure.
“More to the left, Precipice!”
He threw again.
A third throw. The halo shot this one out of the air.
“It got intercepted. Halo shoots anything down that gets too close!”
“Should I keep trying? Burn its battery?”
“If you want, but focus on staying safe, get to a good vantage point!”
Precipice was using his power to lock his position to become a handhold for Fume Hood. Fume Hood, meanwhile, was creating a series of orbs.
She threw them out. Another vague u-turn of a curve, but not swooping low and rising. This set went horizontal, then straight. It passed within range of the Halo. Each detonated as the beam cut into them.
“Another set! Higher!”
“So fucking demanding,” Fume Hood muttered.
She threw again. Not quite the same direction.
The orbs were lasered out of the air. The cloud of gas hung thick in the air, too opaque to see through.
“And one in the middle!”
A little low to be the ‘middle’, but it was sufficiently masked by the cloud in the air.
I saw the flash, the glow, and the laser’s appearance. Same range, same response time. The halo mech blocked the orb.
The suits loomed closer.
“No go!” I called out. “Incoming!”
The fog of gas wasn’t blocking their sensors or view, but as they passed through, fans and ventilation systems sucked up and pushed away the gas. As I’d noted earlier with Fume Hood’s fan that she’d built into her jacket, the fans here made the angel’s positions apparent even before they emerged from the cloud.
The mechs floated closer, to the point that some of our capes who’d been behind cover weren’t anymore. I was one of them. The halo angel had lights at its side that were glowing, and those lights grew brighter as it revved up its engines. Antigrav panels, turbines, and larger rotary propellers encased within protective cases all sped up and glowed brighter as it prepared a charge.
Sarah and the artillery cape attacked it from behind. The halo deflected the shots, but the engines went dark, steam venting around the mech’s body as it twisted in the air to face them down.
The warrior angel with the glowing sword pointed the weapon at me. I flew down and away, using pipes for cover-
And it reversed its hold on the sword, gripping pommel with one hand and handle with the other, sword pointing backward and past its own hip. The beam tore into the water filtration structure, taking out a good chunk of it.
I hated this. Hated feeling paralyzed. I was in a position to observe and problem solve, but the gas hadn’t worked.
I could see where the halo’s systems were sucking in gas, spitting it back out.
“Keep hitting them!”
The sword had taken out a good quarter of the filtration structure to the right, and the amount of water was startling as it sprayed out at high pressure and massive volume. The group that had climbed further up the same structure, Ashley and Capricorn included, were having to fight to keep their positions as pipes dipped and previously horizontal sections became precarious slopes. On the ground, capes were running through the water or even dropping low to let themselves get carried by the flow, where the geyser banked off the wall to the floor.
In the midst of all of that, Capricorn had switched over to Byron, and Byron had been drawing out a constellation. While I adjusted, steering clear of the halo and looking for new cover or any people in need, Byron blasted the mechs with a more focused bit of water.
The halo countered. A single beam down the center of the geyser. Water was superheated into steam, and the expansion of steam disrupted the geyser’s course. What had been a focused stream of water became a splatter, a dump truck’s worth of of water thrown casually across three suits that could have taken ten times the amount.
He blurred, turning water to rock. Splatter became a light rock coating, half of that coating crumbling away in a matter of seconds as plates shifted and parts moved. Ventilation systems ejected stone as a plume of dust.
The halo drifted closer to me, and I was forced to abandon my position. As it got close enough to the structure, it zapped it.
And in the background, the wing mech had been quiet, but was now doing something else. Something protruded from its back, as if it were laying an egg. A cartridge. Electricity crackled around the cylindrical protrusion, and the entire craft seemed to go a bit dim.
I flew, diving, being aware of the halo’s apparent range, which was very visible with the way it zapped everything that was close enough. Close to the ground, until I was skimming the water that layered over the floor, breastplate scraping tile.
Come on, my horrible partner. Work with me. Don’t kill us.
The cartridge dropped. It was the size of a fridge and likely the same weight. It toppled end over end.
Don’t move too violently or hit it. Stay still, embrace it.
I intercepted it. I felt the Wretch latch on. No violent blows.
Arcs of energy crackled along the Wretch, dancing over droplets that had found cracks and crevices on the Wretch’s form.
I twisted around, using rotational force to add to the strength of the swing. I’d have to take a chance at being zapped as I dropped the Wretch, but-
The warrior angel was there, twisting around, sword poised. With the heavy object and my momentum wrapped up in swinging it, I didn’t have the option of getting out of the way. Not unless I wanted to drop it.
And I wasn’t about to drop an electrified power cell into shallow water that some of my fellow capes were sloshing around in.
The sword plunged, striking the Wretch. I released the cell, in hopes it would reach the halo’s range. Not enough, with the sword’s impact driving me and the Wretch down in the moment before the Wretch gave up.
It was Love Lost and Colt who jumped in. They’d been more or less out of sight. I’d been at the left filtration system, they’d been at the far right of the one to the right. Love Lost leaped out, running along the glowing sword blade, leaped off to where Colt was flying, and leaped out again. Colt followed her, and Colt had tinker stuff along her own arms. They weren’t artificial limbs, but studs. When the electricity crackled out, it went to those nodes.
Love Lost planted both feet on the cartridge, residual electricity arcing along her tinker gear, and then kicked off, full-force.
It only pushed the cartridge a few feet closer to the angels, but a few more feet was enough. The halo zapped it, and it detonated.
I flew toward Love Lost as she hurtled toward the ground. I reached out a hand-
She batted it aside, glaring, and carried on falling until she was close enough to the filtration structure to catch it with her claws. She ran alongside it until she reached the pooling water below us, landing on two feet.
Okay, fine. You had it handled.
The detonation hadn’t done much. A bit of damage to the warrior angel’s robe, a bit of damage to its hand. One of the halo mech’s feet was scuffed.
Fume Hood was on one of the catwalks now, and was pelting them with a barrage, devoting the occasional shot to blinding the thrall gunmen who were spread out around the other filtration structures. Some of the shots from the guns had already damaged or destroyed sections of catwalk that all of our non-flying teams were struggling to reach.
Rain threw some blades too. An injured Sarah was blasting, and Withdrawal, perched on the top of the damaged filtration system, had his syringe out. He tried squirting some neon yellow juice at them, and the halo zapped it.
The halo zapped everything. Nothing got through.
The winged craft had loaded another power cell, and produced more barriers, slicing at catwalk and cutting off lines of fire. One collapsing catwalk was stopped as Stonewall created a shield and planted it in the side of the structure.
I saw a light flicker, and for a moment, I thought it was a warning or a sign of an imminent attack or trick. Another cartridge.
But it wasn’t. Just a flicker. It was the winged mech, and the winged mech wasn’t damaged.
Why? What did we do? What was working? Was it Imp, onboard somehow? No. Because if it was, I wouldn’t remember her to know it.
The warrior angel moved, using both hands to raise and level its sword. Aiming at the other structure, where Sveta and Rain were.
I flew to intercept. To do it, I had to take a beam from the halo. I pushed out with my aura, in case the pilots were actually in the craft, and took the hit. As I put the warrior angel between myself and the haloed one, the angel with the halo used thrusters and flight devices. The air reacted violently around me as it lunged, keeping me in its line of fire.
Even following the length of the sword to try to disrupt the continuity of incoming fire, I wasn’t able to avoid the beam’s continuity.
By the time I got where I needed to be, I wasn’t in a position to use it. The beam fired, cleaving into the water filtration structure that my teammates were using as a stage to fight from. The beam cut through the upper segment, raked along the side, and then swept along the ground, toward capes who were wading through water. Some got hit.
But I was close enough to see things. The gas from Fume Hood’s power flowing into ventilation ducts. I was close enough to hear. The whir, the thrum of machinery, of fans working overtime.
It didn’t seem to me that it fit Dragon’s level of talent, to have that kind of struggle.
“Capricorn!” I called out, working to keep the warrior angel between myself and the halo while the Wretch recovered. “Drench the halo! We can suffocate them! Try not to wash away the gas!”
I heard him make some vague reply, but at this stage the structures were shaky enough that it was taking all their concentration to keep from falling.
I flew to Sveta and Rain first. Sveta had asked for help and protection earlier, the structure was more damaged than the other, with damage from the very top, down one side, and into the foundation it was built into. I gave Rain a hand, because he could stop himself from falling but not actually get back up to wherever he had fallen from. Sveta was helping others, like Chastity and Grapnel.
The halo was fixated on other targets now, floating in closer to the other structure. Stonewall held up his shields, protecting three other people. The winged angel cleaved into the already damaged structure with one wing, and struck out with another projected wing-extension in the direction of the thralls. Imp’s team, making their way toward that group. The gas was giving them cover, but thralls were climbing down to lower ground where the gas didn’t reach them, hunkering down on pipes and blasting. Imp and all Heartbroken except Chastity were wading in knee-deep water, so their ability to get out of the way was limited.
The one with the sword drove its weapon into the center of the other structure. People slipped, fell, grabbed onto railings, or slid along pipes and then leaped down into the water below. Not a good leap, when the drop was thirty or more feet and the water wasn’t that deep.
I flew over. The halo moved closer to me, and I moved away, keeping my distance.
Ashley used her power to hop over to higher ground. She helped someone up. Withdrawal was agile enough to manage helping more people. Caryatid stood on the most intact part of the catwalk, beside Stonewall. Water flowed over every surface, spraying up the sword and into the mechanical hands that gripped it.
The sword that impaled the filtration structure glowed, then fired. The entire room shuddered, and every single foothold, catwalk, platform, and box on the structure was jarred, knocked down a peg, or made to fall.
Fume Hood, back in a secure position, resumed her attack. Capricorn did what he could to drench the halo ship, then turn the liquid to rock. Ninety percent of the water was vaporized by the halo’s automatic counterattack. Of the ten percent that remained, a majority went to waste.
Every time, it churned up the rocks that made it into internals, then vented them out as rock dust. When he didn’t turn it to rock, the haloed angel vented it out as a spray instead.
But I felt like it was moving in a less fluid way. I didn’t see lights die or dim, but I did notice it wasn’t using its full capabilities, accelerating movement or rapidly repositioning.
It could have been down to a restriction in the power they had. It could have been that the gas wasn’t air and it needed air to cool efficiently, or to perform certain processes. Capricorn’s power was forcing it to arrest all internal airflow and vent out the foreign material.
Rain threw a blade, and the blade caught the warrior angel in the chest. A silver line, five feet across.
I flew toward it, and the halo zapped me, firing between the warrior angel’s arm and armpit. It pulled its weapon from the structure, and the entire thing sagged.
I dove, accelerating, always keeping the warrior angel between myself and the halo, but the halo was large enough to be overhead for both the warrior angel and myself. The beam came down, striking the Wretch. By the time I could get away from that, a wing extended, protected by hard light, walling off my path.
The silver line was already gone.
The next two shots from Precipice were shot out of the air by the halo.
“Victoria!” Ashley called out.
She was pointing.
Fuck. I knew what she was planning.
I saw her start to run, straight for the warrior angel. I flew to intercept.
She used her power to augment her approach, twin blasts straight behind herself, a violent, flickering darkness that screamed like nails on a chalkboard. Rocketing herself out and toward the warrior angel.
But the blast wasn’t quite enough. Forward momentum died out, and she was falling faster than she moved forward.
I flew to her, and she stopped firing her blast so she wouldn’t hit me. I caught her wrist as she caught mine, my normal Victoria strength boosted by flight alone, and then used a burst of Wretch-strength to hurl her back up and forward.
Plumes of darkness shot behind her to accelerate her approach.
But the haloed angel was rising, and I wasn’t in a position to help.
The beam came down, raking Ashley’s front. She used her power to blast up and into the beam, but it sent her tumbling down and off course.
She blasted again, aiming for the warrior’s chest, but it was a glancing hit. The blast extended out fifteen feet, and the warrior angel was roughly fifteen feet away. Surface damage.
I flew toward her. To catch her out of the air. The wing extended between us. A wall of hard light wrapped around whatever tinker alloys the mechanical parts of the wings were made of. I hit it, hard. I didn’t penetrate. Ashley was left to fall.
“Be ready!” Capricorn called out.
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I remained ready.
The gas was heavy enough in the air to irritate my nostrils and leave my throat dry and scratchy, despite the humidity. I coughed, and I worried.
The wing had to withdraw, as capes mounted a more focused assault. As it did, I was treated to a spray of water.
Ashley, clinging to a wing, while Byron’s water sprayed her into the hard surface, her power helping, to keep her there instead of falling. With the wing gone, she was left to careen in my general direction.
I caught her.
“Ah!” she grunted, as I seized her. “Gentle on the ribs.”
I adjusted my grip, lowering her down to the nearest safe ground, which was not that near. The warrior angel had its sword out, and it swung, only to be blocked by Stonewall’s shield. Had I been closer, it might have swung at Ashley and I.
I lowered her down to a sitting position. She’d been shot in the ribcage, along to the side, and one of her arms had been clipped. Flesh was burned and raw, ribs in one spot exposed and blackened.
“Small graces,” she said. “Bonesaw built me durable.”
“More durable than a human?”
“Reinforcements here and there,” she said. She winced at the pain. “She removed most of it because it wasn’t meant to last.”
The gas and sustained assault on ventilation were having their effect. Yellow-green gas flowed into intake vents, and gray smoke came out the outtake. The warrior angel wasn’t using its sword to blast anymore, only to swing and chop at cover. With one swipe, it knocked the catwalk down. Stonewall fell. His team dove into the rising water with barely any hesitation.
I was more focused on Swansong’s injury and the structure than on the mechs. Couldn’t attack anyway.
“Go,” Swansong urged. She tried to push me, and found that too painful, so she kicked me instead. “Rain hit it!”
He got past the halo.
I flew, not even turning around, my chest momentarily facing the roof as I took off, only twisting around in the air once I was already flying in the right direction. My eyes scanned for that telling silver line.
I saw it. The halo. A silver line at the top.
I flew toward it. The winged angel got in my way. It wasn’t using its full capacity either. No wing extensions. As a whole, the suits were backing off, retreating.
I still couldn’t get past the wing. It was faster to raise or lower than it was for me to ascend or descend.
Colt made her move. She was nimble enough in the air to fly around the wing and get closer. The haloed angel might not have been shooting down everything that moved, not enough to hit Rain’s power out of the air, but it shot Colt.
I’d seen how Colt fought. That she couldn’t touch things to the same extent, that she had to rely on her black blades. But already, she was slowing down, being pushed back. She wasn’t durable and those beams were hurting her. The closer she got, the less forward progress she made.
The glowing studs along her arms that had been incorporated into her breaker form now glowed. A hand made of purple electricity reached out to strike at the halo.
Just enough to break the silver line.
Halo disrupted, the counter-defense weakened.
All of the angels were on a fighting retreat now. If they got away, they could count this as a win, because they’d drenched us, worn us down, and taken out anywhere from a third to a half of our number. People drowned, blasted, or injured past the point of fighting.
The thralls were thinned out, Imp’s group now taking up guns to shoot at the angels with their own team’s fire. I flew after, because fuck letting them walk away and call this a win. Imp had been right. Fuck Saint.
Withdrawal had enough jump in that agility frame of his to tackle the winged ship. With his syringe, he applied the yellow gunk to face, then to upper chest. It looked like paint. I had no clue what it did.
The winged ship extended wings around itself, and Withdrawal decided to play it safe, leaping away and into water. I couldn’t object too much.
The end of the hall was a large aperture, leading into the next building segment. That was their exit.
Love Lost leaped up from one of the structures the thralls had been using, to latch onto the damaged foot of the halo angel. I hit the warrior angel, knocking it off course. It collided with one of the water filtration structures.
The winged angel twisted around, ready to help its teammates. A wing extended my way, then extended with projected images. It cleaved in close enough that I was essentially scraped off and blocked from accessing it further. I could see the black smoke from the mech’s ventilation increase in volume with the push that involved.
Colt was helping Love Lost tear up the Haloed angel.
Sveta emerged from the water. Her arms unfolded into tendrils and sought a grip, but her ascent was blocked by the slope of the projected wing. Love Lost and Colt were making more progress, so Sveta switched over.
I did what I could to pin down the warrior angel, to slam down on the wing and drive the mech beneath that wing deeper into the water. It was keeping two of the suits pinned down. It put the warrior angel in the water, leaning against one filtration system closer to the exit, the haloed angel closer to the other filtration system, while Colt and Love Lost attacked it.
The winged angel, meanwhile, guarded the door. It was struggling, a hand raised to its upper chest, trying to use some superheated steam or a chemical to get rid of the gunk. In the end, it unscrewed a section of its chest to lose that section entirely. As it did, the yellow gunk extended out clinging only by scattered edges and droplets, took on a texture like needles caught by a magnet, then splatted back down onto the area that had been beneath the collarbone segment, as if it had remembered its momentum and forward energy from before, and reapplied itself on removal. The winged angel fought to scrape that away with metal fingertips, then gave up.
Thralls were shooting, though, and I had to be mindful, which limited how much pressure I could apply. Imp’s group crawled over the structure. Juliette froze someone, and Samuel jumped them while they were out of commission. Imp zapped one after another.
I could hear Ashley using her power. I twisted around to look.
Ashley blasted with one hand while running along the sloped wall, keeping herself more or less on track. She was injured, that impacted how she ran, and I saw her slip, only to blast with her other hand, bringing knees to chest, and find her footing and forward momentum again.
The winged mech threw out another projected wing, aimed for Colt and Love Lost. As it had done with me, it essentially scraped them off. Colt hit the water and canceled her breaker form. Love Lost leaped up and onto the side of the other filtration engine.
Ashley- her eyes were wide. She blasted, bringing herself my way, toward the fallen warrior and the outstretched plane of the projected wing.
She blasted, and her power cut through the projected wing. It annihilated metal, twisting it, disintegrating it, and leaving fist-sized chunks where metal had been condensed.
She slashed, punching with her power, heedless of the injury to her side. Destroying one shoulder, then stumbling over to destroy the other.
The wing tried to move, and I used my power. The Wretch grabbed the wing and grabbed the mech beneath the wing, holding onto both. The projected image disappeared, and I flew forward to put myself in the way of the non-projected metal wing before the mech could lunge forward and swipe Swansong with it.
She continued to tear into the shoulder.
With that done, it would leave the mech with wings as the only quasi-threat, it’d-
There was a gasp, a yelp, a buzz of an intercom.
I twisted around to look.
Hidden near the shoulder of the warrior angel was the cockpit. Further to the left than the human heart would be.
Ashley’s power had cleaved into it. It had torn into the person within, a woman.
Now only a hand and parts of two legs remained. The rest was a blood spatter, half covering Swansong, the other half smeared across the warrior angel’s front.
Swansong looked stunned.
I get it, I thought. I really do. We’ve never talked about it, but we both walked too close to that line.
I never wanted to kill, because the resolution to be better and to avert my course from the one Glory Girl had been on had been the one thing that was untainted. Killing under orders, in a necessary situation, a teammate telling me that was what I should do? I could make peace with that.
Swansong had her own demons in that department. She had gone to jail for it.
The winged angel pulled back, rising up, and as I’d noted a humanity in the formation earlier, I could sense an anger now. The rise, the indignation.
But it wasn’t in fighting shape. The smoke shrouded it now, less than before, but still significant.
I saw it twist, turning, looking behind it.
There was a flash, a deep dark blue mingled with a sky blue, rippling through the air, forming a bubble.
Within that bubble, I saw metal mend, the damage undoing itself, lights growing brighter, where I hadn’t even noticed they’d dimmed as consistently as they had.
Things outside the bubble remained in disrepair, but that was one foot, the ends of both wings.
And its ventilation was clean. The gunk at the chest and face were gone.
He had his backup.
There were more efforts. A beam extending toward the haloed angel. The bubble appeared where the beam made contact, until Love Lost intercepted it, throwing herself in the way.
It didn’t matter. Gravity had its hold on her, and the interruption was momentary.
Another rewinding of the clock, a reversal of time. The halo flared with light, and the beams immediately began firing on us. On Imp’s team, on Swansong-
I put myself in the way, nearly being shoved out of the air as the force that was the haloed angel moved past me, antigrav pushing me down, turbines thrusting me to the side.
But it wasn’t trying to fight. It was a retreat. A hand lowered for the member of the Speedrunners. Prancer’s old group, the time manipulating tinkers who had defected to Fallen, and then defected again to Teacher.
“They’re waiting for us now,” Sveta said.
I looked at Swansong, who had dropped to her knees, hands at her injury.
“We need first aid,” I said. “We help the others, assist the trapped and injured back there. Be prepared for a second attack while we’re on the back foot. That took too much out of us.”
I had Kenzie’s tech that I’d stuck into the computer line earlier. I dropped into the blood spattered cockpit and connected it to the system.
“Not disagreeing,” Imp said.
Kenzie’s text appeared in my field of vision.
ooh this is good. am working on comms, picking up lw level chatter, nothing super encrypted.
they waiting for you close to where teach is
“They’re waiting. Teacher’s that way,” I relayed the message to the group. I’d have to say it again to others. “Just about everyone’s that way.”
Lookout sent more messages. Now she was asking if Ashley was hurt.
Fucked up ribs, yes. But that wasn’t the real hurt.
Too many things to juggle. Too many things to focus on. I put a hand on Ashley’s shoulder, and felt her flinch, move like she was going to pull away.
Then she didn’t, letting me do that much for her.
“Get Tattletale to double check all info. But if that’s right, then we should feint,” Imp said. “Make like we’re after Teacher while we go after the real target.”