The energy rippled out as liquid lightning in a startling green-gold. A shockwave from one massive stomp that came with a roar of visible energy that rushed out, multiplied on impacts, then immediately suctioned itself back into crevices and cracks like water settling to the lowest point in a crevice.
The initial shockwave made buildings rock back, surfaces cracking or crumbling, and it nearly tossed us off of the roof.
I wrapped my arms around Tattletale, one arm at her back, the other hand at her belt, and flew as the energy cascaded out to envelop the building. Twisting in mid-air, I watched to see if I could make out our teams, even as I felt them scrabbling for holds, jumping, or rising precariously up.
The energy lanced through the deepest, darkest spaces of the buildings, while warping the edges that stood out the most, causing them to fork and flicker like flame. What had gone up hadn’t come down, with chunks of building now floating in the air, like everything had detonated and now moved in low gravity or slow motion.
Rachel rode a dog to an edge, leaping. The building beneath her apparently gave too much as the dog pushed out and down with its claws, making the effect more like jumping of a cardboard box than a proper roof’s edge. Sveta reached out to catch the dog around the neck and shoulder as it got only one paw around the top edge of the building. Straining, pulling to help the dog scrabble and find its grip.
I flew toward them, but the dog managed to heave itself over the edge before I was halfway there.
Titan Oberon didn’t raise its head as it put a hand up and out to grab a floating chunk of building. It flung the chunk at another building.
Through my Syndicate connection to Foil, I could feel the vibration as the target building shook. Parian seemed to have things well in hand, though. Cloth reached out to give the Heartbroken, Imp and Foil something to grab onto.
The injured heroes on the ground were fleeing some of the damage, as the road peeled up and floated into the air, edges flickering with the green-gold breaker energy.
I flew closer to them, putting a hand over Tattletale’s ear that was closer to my mouth before calling out, “Do you guys need help!?”
There were only four of them now. Two were supporting a fourth teammate as they heaved up one end of a section of floaty road, then braced it with forcefield before using that as a ramp.
“Rooftop Champs finally getting to their namesake territory,” Tattletale muttered.
“Ah, that’s who they are? Only talked to them online, offered to bring them into Hollow Point. Looked up their leader’s portrait, recognized him in the crowd during the big briefing.”
“Alpine is probably dead,” she said. “They have that look about them, like they’re missing that connection.”
“Fuck,” I said. I felt a pang of sympathy, looking down at them. They weren’t moving all that fast.
“All they wanted was to play up the ‘sports team’ angle of heroes, get people excited about their neighborhood heroes again. Hollow Point didn’t fit that.”
Kind of like the Norfair Neighborhood Heroes.
“You better put me down with them,” Tattletale told me. “You’re giving me a wedgie.”
“There might be some justice in the world after all,” I told her.
Still, I floated down, letting go of her. The Rooftop Champs were looking ragged, two with injuries from the gas that made holes. One with a missing arm, shocks of an inflamed red through the skin that was visible past the haphazard bandaging and tattered costume.
Tattletale paused to adjust her belt and straighten her coat, probably fixing the wedgie in the process.
A guy with holes across his face, a mask that had once been a complex arrangement of ribbons now hung on only by strands and the hardening effect of the gas. He was hunched over, fingers prying inside holes near his temple and hairline. A translucent green-pink maggot the size of a hotdog with bun included writhed beneath the surface, burrowing in deeper, escaping his fingers. A woman with a feathered dragon motif had holes across her arm and front. She stood by him, hand on his shoulder, her bad hand trembling. The other two Champs were digging inside a kit.
“Let me,” Tattletale said. “I think I can get it, able bodied as I am. We’ll re-wrap that stump.”
“Thank you,” the able-bodied Champ said, quiet. He looked like the rookie of the team. Teenager. “Didn’t expect a villain to help.”
“When shit’s this bad, those labels stop meaning anything,” Tattletale said. She pulled out some needles. “Those are the rules. Let’s see if we can pin that bastard down.”
“Don’t stab his brain,” the feathered dragon woman said.
“Can’t. This gas gets extradimensional. Which is the only reason you’re not dead. Upside is it might mean it goes away and you go back to normal after,” Tattletale said. “Can’t make guarantees, but if it helps, I’ll tell you I’m the person chiefly responsible for figuring out how to make the portal to Gimel in the first place. My intuition is pretty good.”
“Thank you,” the woman with the holes in her arm said. The trembling in the arm didn’t seem so bad. Her hand went to her collarbone, where gloved fingers hooked on the open holes there, some large enough to drop a golf ball into.
I saw a maggot writhe within. I almost pointed it out, but I saw Tattletale glancing that way, and she locked eyes with me a second later.
“For a team as huggy as yours is,” Tattletale said, “That breastplate of yours is really uncomfortable when you get mashed into it. You bruised me.”
“You mean when I was saving your life?”
“Don’t go raising your voice,” Tattletale said. “You’ll agitate this thing. Almost got it. Let me know if I’m poking anything you can feel.”
“I can’t feel much,” the guy with the head-maggot answered. “Pressure as it squeezes up against the sides.”
I looked over toward the battlefield. Titan Oberon was using the shattered, breaker-modified buildings to deflect and ‘catch’ the projectiles that Titan Eve produced.
I blinked and flicked through a few images on the heads up display, looking for context on what I was feeling elsewhere. Two camps, it seemed. Parian was gathering all the cloth she could from ruined buildings, fashioning large-size dolls that were doing the real legwork in getting people to safety and deflecting incoming attacks. On the other side of the street, some of my team had joined Rachel and her dogs in huddling behind Tristan. The context I was missing was that he was creating motes in the air.
I saw from a distance as Titan Oberon flung another chunk of building at that group. Motes of orange light coalesced into stone, melding into the flying chunk of building. The shift in weight and the weird aerodynamics of the breakered building chunks made the chunk veer off course.
Lookout was only just now getting to the room Syndicate was in. The Malfunctions were with her.
“I’m going,” I told Tattletale. “See what I can do for our teams.”
“You have to see what you can do about Eve,” Tattletale said. “She’s winning now.”
In the distance, Titan Oberon leaped skyward, disappearing into the cloud cover.
Titan Eve turned smoke into spikes, taller than her.
He landed amid the spikes, twisting his hulking form to avoid being skewered, even sliding hooves along the length of the largest spike.
Tattletale hissed as she pulled the suturing needle away from the maggot, letting the ground and the building we were on shake. “Come back here you little bastard.”
Spikes had dissolved into gas, but he was already bounding forward before that gas could touch him. A flip forward, hooves passing over his head, while he held a chunk of building like a bludgeon, crushing it into Titan Eve’s head. When she was off balance, he struck her, producing a shockwave.
Gas hardened to solid as the shockwave met it, and shattered rather than be blown away. Shattered gas became ambient gas, creeping in on him from every direction.
Even from a distance, I could see the blood weep from his arm as chunks fell free, cracks spreading up the limb.
He leaped back and away, while Titan Eve slowly rose to a standing posture.
“I’m not sure I trust this gas mask against everything she can do,” I said.
“We need to do something about her,” Tattletale put emphasis on the ‘need’.
I nodded, floating higher.
I would have to figure something out.
I heard the buzz of her communications device, the five pound cell phone. I hesitated.
“Can you get that?” she asked Ms. Dragon Feathers.
I hesitated, listening. Ms. Dragon Feathers held the device to her ear, though.
“The group fighting Auger lost,” the heroine reported.
“He was fighting the Machine Army?”
“He still is. The giants that the Red Queen made are holding him back, but he’s taking the machines apart and using them.”
“Using how?” Tattletale asked, fishing the maggot out. It looked like she was struggling to keep from cutting it in half, using suturing needles to hook it, while grabbing at its ichor-slick body with a gloved hand.
“Tinkertech,” Dragon Feathers said.
“Auger was a tinker?” I said.
“He’s one now,” Tattletale glanced up at me.
“It’s the full package,” I remarked. “When people become titans, every possible power that agent could have handed out goes to the Titan.”
I gestured in the direction of Titan Oberon. Surrounded by breaker-ized chunks of building.
“Mm,” Tattletale grunted, focusing on her task as the only really able bodied, able person in this little group. “What’s the bad news?”
“The heroes on the scene were blindsided by Titan Skadi.”
“Anyone we know?” I asked, tense.
“No,” Tattletale said, before the heroine could answer. “That’s not why it’s bad news. The Auger Titan beat Titan Skadi.”
“Yeah,” the heroine said.
“Stay on guard,” Tattletale told me. “This just got about five times harder.”
I nodded, then wasted no time in flying away. If there were updates to be had, I’d get them from others.
Skadi was one of the titans who didn’t have any connection to any of the others. Now she’s networked to Oberon and Auger?
How much of his decision to do this floating shockwave stomp had been because that battle had turned? Was energy shared between them? Had he been contributing something to Auger? What did a connection mean?
“You guys managing!?” I called out to Capricorn, as I got close enough.
“Is anyone!?” Rain called back.
I could see Deathchester now. Ashley was using blasts to ascend a series of Gibbet-made bits of rubble that stuck out the side of a building. Getting closer and closer to Oberon.
Oberon leaped, getting out of the way of a plume of gas, while simultaneously putting about three hundred feet of distance between Damsel and himself. Damsel blasted a wall, was nearly knocked off her perch by the recoil, then blasted with two hands to fling herself into the hole before the gas swept over her.
Parian’s group was using the stuffed animals, but they were gas damaged, and she was having to amputate limbs and sew them shut before discarding the excess cloth. Interesting that the gas didn’t really affect the stuffed animals as much as everything else.
But that group didn’t have a lot of mobility, and they were in the thick of the maggot-ridden area. The maggots crept up through the building and over the edges of the roof. Chastity, Foil, Roman, Juliette and Imp were killing the things, but for every two they killed, there was one more just appearing. That might have sounded doable, but they were constantly having to relocate and move, which made it a losing battle.
“I’m asking if you can manage, or if you need help!” I called down. “Others are struggling, but if you’re stuck here-”
“We’re managing,” Tristan said. He had a sheen of sweat to his face, and a bead of it had landed on his chestplate. This was at the same time his breath was fogging. “But if you could intercept anything and spare me having to-”
I flew across the street, but I didn’t fly in a straight line path. The sections of building were floating, and they had different physics than they would have normally had in reality. I flew into the largest chunks, catching them with a half-dozen hands, and then shoved them hard before flying in another direction. By the time I reached the third chunk, the rooftop of a Chili Cricket’s fast food place was crashing into the side of a crack in reality.
There was a good chance he’d use another stomp to give himself more ammunition, but for the time being, I denied him his ammunition.
An arm motion and sudden movement from just about everyone who wasn’t in the computer room with Lookout grabbed at my attention.
A wall of gas, tearing my way.
Spinning to produce some external force that might repel the gas, I flew up and away.
A new gas. This gas was a lime green, but thinner, with a wet shimmer to it.
And every surface it touched was left slick with slime. Fires here and there were quenched, and the weight of the slime pulled at already damaged structures. The rumble of buildings falling joined the whistle of wind and the low rumble of the Titan’s movements.
I could feel Parian, Chastity, and Foil struggling. I flew straight to them.
Slime made the already sloping roof’s surface slick. The dolls, too, were fighting to stay upright.
I had to take evasive action as a plume of black smoke washed down the middle of the street. In my peripheral vision, I saw Oberon leap, gathering up energy around himself.
Another shockwave imminent?
We’re just running damage control. I know I have to go after Fume- after Titan Eve, but there’s no damn opportunities!
I flew to the group. They were fighting to stay upright. Roman was crouched, feet slowly losing traction on the rooftop. With the lip at the edge of the roof it didn’t look like anyone was about to fall off, but they were sitting ducks.
I reached out with my forcefield. Many hands for many people. But strength wasn’t traction, and the forcefield hands slid off, leaving brief, streaky handprints.
“Cloth,” I said, looking at Parian. She turned empty doll eyes my way.
She unspooled cloth, but the vast majority of it was slimy. The stuff permeated everything, seeping through cloth.
As her power reached cloth, it formed bubbles, the power forcing slime out and finding the miniscule gaps in the fabric.
Above us, Oberon reached the apex of his leap. Clouds parted in his wake, forming a ripple in the sky.
Which wasn’t enough. There were too many people on this rooftop, and not nearly enough clean cloth for those people to grab onto.
More of the slimy mist continued to settle around us. Parian wiped at her mask, trying to get slime out of the eye sockets.
At the same time, my forcefield was collecting it. Most of it wicked off, but it was viscous enough that the ‘wicking’ took a few moments.
I couldn’t drop my forcefield and use my coat, because then I’d be in the same boat as the rest of the group. I could just take the mostly dry end of the long bit of cloth and try to hug my forcefield around it to try and keep it dry.
“Here!” Parian called out, knotting the end of the long roll of cloth she carried on her back, now completely undone, every bit of cloth spent. “Come!”
As Roman and Juliette approached, Parian lasso’ed them, tightening it around their armpits.
The slime was slippery enough that they were squeezed out and sent sprawling like bars of soap in wet hands.
“No, no, no,” Parian said.
Above us, Oberon crashed into solid smoke, clearly intended at interrupting his descent. The smoke had some slime on it, and he tumbled head over heels as he fell.
“Impale someone!” I told Foil. “skewer them to the cloth!”
“Won’t work!” Foil answered. She was being tied together with Parian, and there wasn’t enough slime there to make it slip. Enough telekinetic power in the cloth itself, apparently.
“Chastity!” Roman called out. “Berserk strength! I know it’s weak but-”
“I have my whip!” she raised her weapon. She’d managed to keep ahold of it.
“I have to hit someone!”
“Then hit Juliette!” Chastity said, voice pitched.
The Heartbroken were running for it instead of taking my suggestion. ‘Running’ being a polite way of phrasing the way they waded through slime. It was maybe the first time I’d seen them working together.
I saw the shift in their bodies as Roman used his power. A burst of raw emotion, rage and hostility flowing through them and making veins momentarily bulge. It came, apparently, with strength. Enough for them to leap toward the nearest building face.
‘Leap’. They had no traction on the slimy roof. They tumbled forward with some velocity, enough to briefly meet the building face. Roman slammed his hand against a window frame to adjust his fall, crashing through a window. Juliette grabbed on with sheer strength, fingertips hooking around holes in the windowsill, and displacing any slime on the rim or on her fingers by sheer strength.
Oberon produced a shockwave before hitting the ground. Slime everywhere rippled out and away from the point below him.
Moving it aside so he had more room to land. He crashed down, and even that crash was dampened.
But the shockwave was as immense as the one that had leveled a city block.
I hauled on the cloth that had Parian and Foil, lifting them up and away. Off to the side, Chastity was whipping at a bit of storm drain, taking two tries before she had a hold she felt secure enough about.
I saw falling bodies, and realized a moment later they were stuffed animals. Juliette held on with one hand, her body still but her legs swaying in the wind.
Chastity yelled something that was lost in the rush of wind. The blast of wind from Oberon’s impact washed past her, and she yelled something again, swinging in the wind, feet trying and failing to find something but slime.
Then Chastity dropped a good foot toward the ground.
The whip didn’t have enough of a grip on the drain pipe, and the drain pipe itself was flimsy. She slipped down, and the force of her body weight coming down made the pipe bend, to the point it almost came free of the wall.
I could feel the lurch in her stomach through the Syndicate connection.
“Can’t-” Foil muttered. She reached down to her boot, scraping through slime. “Cleats. Swing me, Vic!”
I felt her legs move, and I swung the dangling pair to work with that movement.
The crossbow fell, abandoned. She threw two darts at Chastity, impaling her clothes to the wall, then very intentionally slipped free of the cloth, falling.
A dart in each hands, she staked herself to the wall of a building that was already starting to crumble.
She leaped from there, to another building that was in the midst of falling down.
I knew her intention.
I flew, swinging Parian out. Chastity’s whip had fallen from the drain pipe and now dangled limp from one hand. Her other hand gripped in a futile way at her coat. It was now only tearing cloth that pinned her in place, and her hold on the cloth wasn’t enough to stem the tearing.
Threads and needles flew out from Parian, catching at Chastity’s clothes, flowing through, then lancing back.
Stitching her to the cloth that Parian hung from.
It took time, and we didn’t have a lot. Small mercies that this building face they’d jumped to been out of the path of the gas; the only gas that painted this wall was gas that had blown back to touch the wall.
And that, really, was enough, especially when combined with snow and ice. What might have been the best handhold became slippery in three different ways.
Off to the side, the window opened. Roman, bleeding from a dozen places, reached down for Juliette.
“Massive blood loss is a good look on you, idiot brother,” Juliette said, looking up at him without reaching back. I could see her fingers moving by small fractions. Her own blood trailed down from where fingers dug into slimy, hole-riddled wood, like her skin was splitting at the beds of the fingers.
“This building is falling down. There’s no time to fuck around,” he snarled.
“Saying you’d die too is the most convincing case I’ve heard for suicide yet,” Juliette said.
Her feet scrabbled, trying to get traction and finding none. She kicked at the window with one boot-toe, trying to stand on the shattered glass edge, but it only crumbled. She slipped further.
“Bite me,” he told her. He reached down to her face, and shoved slimy, bloody fingers in her mouth. I could see the muscles and veins standing out on his wrist as he clutched her lower jaw with every bit of strength he had.
She, for her part, bit down with matching fury.
With that as their hold on one another, Roman hauled Juliette up enough she could get through the window.
Threads Parian was using were snapping as I tried to test the weight of Chastity. Others pulled free because of the slime, or made her coat tear more.
“Whip me!” I called out. The Wretch was too slimy.
I held out my bandaged hand. “Hit my hand!”
Chastity twisted until her back was to the wall. Cloth tore more.
Only the fact she was at the corner of the building let her get her arm back far enough. The full-body motion of even getting the whip up and moving in a loose circle before she could send it where she wanted cost her more. Threads pulled on her and limited her arm movement, but many of those threads came loose.
Come on, I thought.
She struck out, whip lashing toward my hand.
It struck my palm, but the impact was only a graze.
The forcefield’s teeth bit into the whip itself. A cue taken from Roman and Juliette.
I pulled back, gripping her that way. Lowering her toward the ground.
Buildings weren’t crumbling as much here. The same stuff that put the maggot-ridden holes in walls was making those walls more rigid, if… thin. As the weight of the building pulled down and was jostled again and again by shockwaves, the buildings slumped down, like they were made of cardboard and more and more water was being poured onto them.
Imp, Roman and Juliette escaped the building from a lower floor. Imp seemed to be in good shape, and was supporting Roman as he staggered a bit, the both of them skidding on the slime that had settled on the ground. The crash through the window had done a number on him, and he had bites from maggots that I was pretty sure hadn’t been there when he’d made the leap.
Juliette looked only a bit better off than Roman, though she was slimy, straight black hair pushed back and away from her face, much in line with the backswept crown of spikes at her head. Her dark eye makeup ran behind her mask’s eye holes. The second set of eyes on her mask was perfect, in a stark contrast. She wore her gas mask under her real mask, setting it slightly ajar.
Foil joined us, also with her gas mask on.
Text appeared across my field of vision.
“Help’s on its way. Which is a good fucking thing,” I said, panting a bit. “Takes us five minutes to handle what takes them seconds to fuck up.”
I glanced at Foil, and caught her staring at the slime-marred exterior of my forcefield. It wasn’t much, but it did give the forcefield a texture. When I moved the forcefield, she looked away, aware she’d been staring.
“I bet there’s someone out there with a thing for spooge and maggots who is having the best day right now,” Imp said, looking around. The city in this particular stretch of the battlefield was barely recognizable as city anymore. The vague outlines were the same, but it was spongy and organic, streaked with translucent lime green and neon green mingled with hot pink. It made me think of coral, or some alien civilization. “For all the rest of us, it’s pretty fucking miserable. Wow.”
“We need to get off the ground,” I said. “If any gas comes rushing through-”
Parian moved the slimy cloth, forming a barrier that closed up the alley. The cloth was stitched to stretches of curtains, upholstery, and clothing, all taken from inside nearby buildings.
“That’ll help, but it won’t stop it.”
“I know,” Parian said, her voice muffled by the gas mask.
“Just get to safety. Do what you can. Foil?” I asked. “You want to come help?”
She pulled her mask away from her mouth to answer, “Okay. You look after the kids, Par? Imp?”
Parian nodded. “I’ll be making stuff and sending it. I can look after these three while I do it.”
“Can’t do much,” Imp said, under her breath. “But I think I can do more than babysit. I’ll be out there.”
“You’re sure?” Foil asked.
Foil turned back to me. “Ready when you are.”
Into the fray. I had to work with Foil for a moment to find a place I could grab her where she wasn’t slick with the chilly ooze that came off everything in rivulets.
I lifted her up.
“Thank you for saving them,” she said.
“I didn’t do enough. Roman and Juliette handled themselves.”
“They always do,” Foil said.
We were high enough up to see the Titans battling. Oberon was on the back foot, and there were enough areas around the city that were cloaked in gas that he was reluctant to explore or roam. He was leaping more, to skip over them, attack, or, most often, retreat. Even when areas didn’t have gas, they often had slime. Oberon slipped once or twice as I carried Foil high enough that we were above any potential hazards.
Titan Eve was finding her stride. More gases. More sustained attack. Was that because she was stronger, or was it because she had conserved strength of some sort?
I wished we had some answers.
“I wish we talked more,” Foil said. “You and I. I miss talking with heroes. I miss not having to justify everything. Even saving people.”
“Is it easier with Parian, at least?” I asked.
“No. I don’t struggle with Parian because she’s a villain. I struggle with her because she’s different from me. Braver in some ways, more scared in others. There are things she doesn’t let go of.”
“We all have those things, don’t we?” I asked. “Things we don’t accept?”
“Not all of us,” Foil said.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Was she referring to herself?
“I killed March, with Vista and Imp,” she said. “Parian hated March, but…”
“But she can’t let it go?”
Foil shook her head. “She says she can’t get the mental image out of her head. That it makes some kind of sense with what she’s come to accept from Imp, even Vista. But… it shook her image of me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
How long had she been wanting to get this off her chest, to be venting it now?
“Give it time?” I suggested. “Let her adjust. You’re together, and so long as you communicate, as long as you show each other support, love, kindness, trust… all of that. I think you’ll be okay.”
“I hope so,” Foil said.
I gave her my best reassuring squeeze before disabling my forcefield and letting her fall the one foot to the rooftop below. No holes here, no slime. It was the nearest, tallest, most upright building, which was about ten buildings down from where we’d left Parian, Imp, and the Heartbroken. A clean rooftop and vantage point.
Foil wiped off handfuls of the slime from her bodysuit.
“I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you more, or maintain any contact,” she said.
I looked at her and saw her simultaneously look away from my forcefield, which was shedding its last traces of slime now.
Almost like she had been talking to my fragile agent, rather than to me.
“I can look past it,” I murmured, more to myself than anything. “A whole human lifetime could be spent saying ‘sorry’ and it wouldn’t be enough to cover everyone’s regret from that period in time. When things get that horrible, this horrible…”
I indicated the fight between Titans below us.
“…You have to conserve your anger for select targets.”
“That’s a whole lot of concentrated anger,” Foil commented.
I decided not to respond to that.
I could already see some of the reinforcements, appearing through portals. One of the Rooftop Champs were creating a forcefield to mitigate the flow of gas, and that let the advancing group of heroes continue to advance.
“Have we found any weak points?” Foil asked.
Damsel was atop Oberon, claws containing a mass of her power, which swirled in a vaguely spheroid form.
“Lost my crossbow,” Foil said. “Had to drop it to get my hands free enough. I’m low on darts. Fuck. I feel weak like this.”
“Would it have done anything?” I asked. “The crossbow?”
She shook her head. “Pelted both of them a few times. Nothing. I’d need to find something like a power center or brain to do anything.”
More text appeared in the black space outside of my field of vision.
GET A PHONE?
“Getting a message from Lookout,” I said. I could see the sheer number of heroes. If everyone had already been occupied dealing with other Titans, then two fights had been abandoned or lost if there were this many showing up. “Be right back.”
I flew over the battlefield, seeing the more mobile heroes already getting to the perimeter of the battlefield. They were finding our guys. Capricorn’s group, with Sveta and Rachel. Deathchester. Parian’s group.
I could see the costumes of Girls at Bat, of Magic Dream Parade, Foresight, Wardens…
Portals appeared in the air, and Dragon mechs flowed through. Six. Two looked rough already, not in the sense that they were battle damaged, but they lacked the touch of polish I was used to seeing from Dragon.
Just have to survive, I thought.
Reinforcements will come. We’ll find a way forward.
I landed near Capricorn. Some of Advance Guard and Foresight had joined his group. Relay, Shorcut.
“We’ve got an extra,” Relay said. He tossed me one.
“Going to assist the annihilators,” I said. “I can get in close enough to help.”
“Annihilators,” Shortcut said, almost derisive.
“The people who can put actual, lasting holes in those Titans.”
I left without saying anything else, only a nod to Capricorn.
Damsel and Foil were key players here.
And so, apparently, was Dragon.
I put the phone to my ear, waiting.
No ring, no beep, no buzz. Just Kenzie’s voice.
“Got it, think this is you,” she said.
“Great, cool. Funny story. I ran an algorithm to look through video and see what phones changed hands, working my way forward from when they were first handed out…”
“Lookout,” I said. “Focus.”
“I got some scans of the cracks.”
“And there’s a lot. Way more than we saw last night.”
Holy shit, that really had been last night. It didn’t feel that way.
“Something we can use?” I asked.
“Probably, but… that’s the wrong way of putting it.”
“Lookout, we can’t talk around the topic when I could be helping fight right this second. Tell me, is there anything we can use?”
I felt Withdrawal step closer, leaning into the microphone. “She explained it to us, quick and simple. Can we use it? Yes and no. There are petabytes of data from a few shots she managed to get, and she didn’t get enough to encompass everything in even one area of the space down there.”
“Standard problem for any surveillance tech in the modern age,” Kenzie said. “Gathering the data is easy. Finding the right, usable data might take too long. But it’s not going to be like you think it is. It’s archives, history. It’s Moose and Prancer’s entire history from the time they met their agent, from before, information about people they knew, codified and referenced and there’s whole forks of data that get cut off because old connections broke. Both of them, because they merged.”
Merging. Was that what Oberon and Eve were trying to do now?
I shook my head. “That’s not that useful, unless it’s a sign they’re in there? If we could reach them…”
“They aren’t. Not as far as I could see.”
“They aren’t?” I asked.
“Traces of them, but they’re wiped out. It’s only old tactics and strategies, memories of battles, informed by the past. But what’s cool is that there’s other data, going further back. Past worlds.”
“Worlds that won?” I asked.
“No,” Foil answered me, leaning closer to the phone. “We talked about this with Tattletale a few months ago. If they hadn’t won, they wouldn’t be here.”
“There’s other stuff, but it’s secondary,” Kenzie said, a little breathless. “Really wish I could have stayed, but these guys dragged me off.”
“Sorry, but I’m not sorry,” Withdrawal spoke into the phone.
“You’ll be sorry if it turns out I could have gotten data from Titan Eve that verifies what I saw in Oberon, or more photos, or more anything that might have made a difference.”
I stood at the rooftop’s edge, looking down. Oberon was taking fire.
“Other reason for my call: Dragon’s bringing out the big guns,” Lookout said. “You’ll want to clear the battlefield when the phone alarm goes off.”
“Noted,” I told her. I looked down, and I saw Damsel in the thick of things. Trophy Wife was with her. I’d have to evacuate a few people if the call came in.
“They said it worked okay against the Ophion Titan, before he escaped. It overheated while they were using it to deal with his monsters.”
“Good,” I said. “Alright. Look, I gotta go.”
“Um! And last thing? Your sister’s out there helping with your family backing her up some. I know I’m not supposed to mention her, but if they show up, and they might, I thought you wouldn’t want it to be a surprise.”
“I… really don’t want to know. I should go now.”
“Oh, and another last thing-”
“Lookout,” I said, stern.
“Just hang up on her,” Chicken Little said. “Sometimes you have to.”
“Um, no you don’t. I’m trying to be helpful!”
“That’s cruel,” Caryatid added, in the background.
“It’s mercy,” Darlene said, sounding worn out. “Sorry Lookout.”
I hung up before getting more.
Then, walking over to the rooftop’s edge, I put my gloved hand on the metal railing. My bandaged hand smarted where the whip had caught me at the heel of my palm.
With my power, I began to tear up the railing, molding it by squeezing it.
“My weapon?” Foil asked.
“Any objections?” I asked, forcing the torn end of it into a point.
“No. A little rough.”
“Have you gotten picky, Foil, since you started living with a villain fashion artist?”
“No,” she said, but she smiled a bit. “Let’s see how much damage we can do.”
“Any chance you could arm me with your spear?”
“Specially made bolts, yes, if I had any left. This? No. The power would conduct to the part you held, and you’d hurt yourself.”
“Even with my forcefield?” I asked.
“Hold it out?”
I did. A bit of falling snow or ash settled on an outstretched hand.
The spear shimmered, taking on a faint but complex hue like it had been dipped in a puddle with a rainbow sheen of oil on the surface. She laid it gently across my forcefield hand.
The forcefield went down.
I quickly put my mask on, just as a safeguard. I waited.
The forcefield took a little while to get back up to full strength. I flexed my limbs, making sure nothing had been ruined.
“No luck,” I murmured.
“Deliver me,” she said, looking down over the edge of the roof, no longer with a railing.
With my forcefield, I grabbed her.
“Eerie,” she said.
“Mask,” I told her.
She raised her visor, giving me a flash of her expression, so very tired, and put the gas mask on, fixed her goggles, then flipped her visor back down. She gave me a curt nod.
I used my own body to block the worst of the wind as I pulled her down after me.
A plunging descent, toward Eve.
“I will catch you if something happens,” I pledged.
I felt her nod through the Syndicate connection. Felt her heartbeat, the hand clenching the spear shaft.
I controlled the descent, bringing us close, as we landed on Titan Eve’s shoulder, amid rolling clouds of gas. I let go of Foil and slammed down hard, to create enough of an impact that the worst of the gas would be shoved away.
For her part, Foil plunged the twelve foot spear in deep, then slashed. What had been supporting railings were now like teeth, sawing on the way out.
It was almost effortless in how it cut, even with its weight, screwed up balance, and crude makeup.
The spear shifted from its rainbow shimmer and effortless cutting to being normal, stuck where it was, while Foil adjusted her balance and used it for leverage to change position.
She was doing a fair amount of damage. Blood washed out of the wounds, always in short spurts that ceased within seconds of starting, always unobstructed flows, like water from an opened dam, but thicker.
My skin prickled beneath my clothes, and I backed away from Foil, before using my forcefield and spinning to try and displace the smoke.
Titan Eve shrugged, then raised a ‘hand’ our way.
But we’d distracted her. Titan Oberon pounced, leaping to close the distance in a flash, driving hooves into her upper chest.
The impact and the shockwave that rippled out around her jarred Foil from her perch. She toppled through the air, and I caught her, swinging her around and throwing her back toward Titan Eve.
It really fucking helped, having Syndicate to give me a clear view of where Foil was in this foggy mess.
The wounds Foil had delivered had been something like a person might have managed with a scalpel and a few seconds to work on someone’s upper shoulder and collarbone, but the hit from Oberon was far more severe. Stone cracked, blood flowed. Had she been human, her upper body might have caved in.
As it was, it slowed her down, made her bend over, and put her into a defensive mode.
I heard the roar of Damsel’s power, located her, and watched as she used the recoil of her blast to direct her descent. She’d been atop Oberon, apparently, and in the wake of his attack, she was crossing over to a new target.
She fell past Titan Eve’s head, raking the side of her ‘face’ with a singular blast.
Gas reached up, forming spikes, dissolving, forming more spikes, dissolving further. Filling the air like she was building a forest around herself, only the appendages couldn’t decide if they were bare branches stabbing toward the sky or if they were loose clouds of greenery.
I pulled Foil back, and I flew toward the plummeting Damsel, who was trying to both stay back from the gas and to slow down her fall.
“Stop blasting, let me in close!” I shouted, as I pulled Foil behind me.
She kept blasting, claws whipping around herself, using her annihilation blasts intermittently, when it wasn’t clear she had a good sense of when she was facing down.
“Trust me!” I shouted.
The blasting stopped.
We continued to fall, and I was forced to find a speed where I wouldn’t pull Foil’s arm out of the socket, but would still catch up to Damsel and have room to control her fall.
Gas was expanding all around us.
I placed a hand around her bladed fingers, pulled her closer, then did it two more times. Phantasmal hands gripping blades, still trying to find that gentle balance where I wouldn’t squeeze so hard the blades cut through my forcefield, but where I wouldn’t lose my grip on her either.
I focused more on keeping Foil from getting whiplash than I did in saving Damsel’s arm from being ripped out of the socket. I knew her shoulders were strong, she’d been augmented, and her Manton protections no doubt covered some of the damage that constant recoil might have done to her.
I pulled both of the women into the air, up and away from the wounded Fume Hood.
My borrowed phone blared, its warning given.
We’d hampered them enough, we’d slowed them down. Now Dragon’s ship, mounted on a rooftop, was preparing its shot.
Everyone out of the blast zone.
Down there on the road, wobbling, a frantic Torso was trying to get the hell away, wobbling precariously. I flew after him, thinking I could pick him up, but another cape was already on the scene, doing a sweep. They picked him up, lifting him into the air.
Come on, I thought. I turned my attention to the Dragon craft, and the line of heroes at the edge of the damage.
A blue light flared at the top of the Dragon craft.
A shadow fell over the battlefield.
Almost hidden because a building stood nearly as tall as she did, covering up most of her body, Titan Skadi stood behind the heroes’ lines, clad in red and black armor.
With a swipe, she destroyed the Dragon craft. Whatever had been charging detonated, bright, white toward the center and blue at the edges of the explosion, in stark contrast with Titan Skadi’s armor, which ranged from red to black. Too bright to look at.
With a second swipe, she took out three more Dragon craft.
Come on, get out of there! Everyone-
Raising two bladed limbs above her head, she plunged those limbs down into the heroes’ lines.
Hitting no less than ten people in the process.
She straightened, moved like she was taking a step forward, and everything that wasn’t in deepest shadow disappeared. Those deep shadows disappeared a moment late.
She had reappeared next to Oberon. She didn’t attack him.
Auger beat her, and Titan Oberon had been connected to Auger.
We got our backup, and Titan Oberon just got his.
The connected ones are coordinating.