Excelsior lay broken across the ground. His blood splattered my face, dripped down the front of his uniform, and radiated out from where his arm lay disconnected, a tangle of muscle and bone and marrow leaking onto the ground below.
Faraday lay somewhere across the street, curled up in a building that had once been a post office. They were both still alive, but they wouldn’t be for too much longer.
That just left me, standing in the middle of the street, cars burning, people screaming. Half an hour before back up could arrive. Half an hour before I could expect anyone to step in. Half an hour before I could get the long cut spiraling across my face healed up, could stop it from dripping across my lip and down my neck in fat hot blots.
The wind called to me, bizarrely, it rolled over my hands.
Could he feel it with his billowing armor, hands drawn across one another, could he feel anything? My eyes slid across the gauntlets. One hand for negative. One hand for positive. Energy into pure raw force.
“It’s a shame you’re travelling with Faraday, kid,” Negalliforce called out. “I’ll give you one opportunity. Run. Run screaming into the night, where nobody will ever find you. Run until nobody can think of you without remembering you as a coward, who left this city to burn. But I am willing to spare you.”
My heart fluttered in my chest. Excelsior’s sword lay on the ground beside him, and drearily, his one working eye (the other blinded years ago, a cruel yellow) flicked over to me. His mouth worked.
“Do it.” he grunted. “Get out of here, don’t die for this.”
“Even your boss doesn’t have faith in you.” Nega said, stepping forward. With a swish of his hands, the cars danced around them, batteries popping like hand grenades. I gestured and deflected the minuscule shrapnel away with a gust of wind. The only thing I could do. Just… brief gusts of wind. Useless here. What could I do?
“Gale,” Excelsior said. “This isn’t your battle. And he will leave you alone. Go. Leave us here.”
My hands clenched into a fist, tightly. I was so tired of running. And I could taste blood on my face. and I was so fucking useless.
“Well? You’re going with the option where I fucking kill you?” Nega asked. A glove slid into the air and I felt the positronic energies, normally suppressed by Faraday’s tempering aura, swim into existence.
I stared into his eyes for a long moment, and swallowed down the terror. I only had to hold him off for thirty minutes, and then the reinforcements would get here. Only had to trade myself for thirty minutes, and lives would be saved.
This is what I signed up to be a hero for.
Nega took another step forward, and I slammed the growing windstorm into my feet and sped forward.
There was a moment of surprise, but he reacted well before I could take advantage of it. The back of his hand. Not even the whirring cloud of death he could gather, but the back of his hand, slammed into my face, and sent me back, skidding, then onto my back. Something sharp hit me. Something painful. I was bleeding. A single hit. Almost taken out.
Nega pushed a single palm towards me and charged. Negative energy, the likes of which could burst open a building like a swollen grape. Would blow me apart. I wasn’t nearly as durable as Faraday was, after all.
“Gale…” my mentor said. “Get out of here. He outranks you too much.”
I stood up and drew Excelsior’s sword from my bleeding back. The blade ate into my armor, through it until it touched the skin. I’d only have a few seconds before it started to eat into the bone, since I was not worthy to hold it.
That was how the sword worked. It bit into people who weren’t worthy for it.
That’s what it told me from just touching it, whispering into my head.
I wasn’t worthy.
But I only needed to hold it for a few seconds. My legs bled and burned.
But I only needed to hold out for a half hour. I kept telling myself that, and pushed forward, though blood wept into one of my eyes and sweat rolled off of my limbs.
The energy blast came at me and wind rimmed the side of my borrowed blade, and I cut through it. Energy lanced to the side of me and blew chunks out of the road, set the air on fire and crackled with determined force, but I kept sliding forward. The hilt devoured the skin of my hands, but I kept moving forward, piece by piece, foot by foot, until Nega could see the wild of my eyes.
“You really think you’re worthy of a last stand against me?” Nega asked, grimly, cracking his knuckled underneath of his colored gloves.
I swallowed and batted another blast of energy to the side. It cut through a building, evacuated, and sent it tumbling into the street. I could smell my hair burning where it had cut across the wild mane of my hair behind me.
“It’s not about being worthy,” I said, grimly. My heart thudded in my chest and my hands shook. Then I quoted from the Brawler, the first hero. “It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about living for something greater than yourself. It’s about looking at yourself and realizing that you were put here, for this moment, so you could fight for those who cannot.”
I wanted it to be true. It had to be true.
Excelsior laughed raggedly behind me and slowly crawled to his feet. “So that you may trade your life, so they can live. Ha. I didn’t know you were a quoter.”
“Pathetic,” Nega said, and the street erupted into fire as he pointed down at the ground. “You’re trying to trade time for your life?” He laughed as fire lashed at my legs and my outfit, rated to take on abrasive threats rather than flame (my powers were better suited for dealing with flame, and yet, there was nowhere to divert it when it came from everywhere at once). “Let me let you in on a little secret, Gale. D rank. Nearly flunked out of every combat class, but managed to eek out a passing grade on the knowledge portions. Law portions. Asthetic portions. Useless hero. Will die, and be a martyr.”
I stared at him.
“I read your file. Very cute,” Nega laughed.
“But back up isn’t coming. Won’t be coming soon enough to save this pathetic town. They’re distracted, you see,” His grin split his mask so that his lips were visible. “They’re just learning that they’ve been infiltrated by Manny the Faces.”
My stomach dropped. B class villain. Shapeshifter. Previously known to only cause trouble, had recently been involved with intel theft from the united nations.
“So they’ll be too busy to send help at the moment, while they figure out who has been compromised.” He fingers swathed with glowing energy, he leered across my legs, staring at the flames spreading. I smothered them, and tried to ignore the burning pain settling across my hands.
It wasn’t about me. It was about surviving.
“Are you really surprised? How else did I know here Faraday would be for the attack?”
My teeth grit in my head and I swallowed back the pain. It wasn’t about me. It was about everyone else surviving.
“So I can play with you.”
“But…?” I asked. The sword screamed inside of my head as it touched against my nerves. I was not the right bearer. I was not the right person for this job.
But I was the only person.
“You’re not worth playing with.”
A limiter popped off the side of his armor, rank with anti matter and cored surplus power, and I stared at it as it rolled across the ground, burning the stone as it flicked about.
“And now, Gale, you die.”
I could feel the heat rising across the air around him as his glee increased.
I had a single stupid idea, watching him. A single, incredibly dumb thing that would never have occurred to me in better circumstances. A moment that would stick with me.
I tugged on the air in his lungs and sent it squirting out of mouth and nose.
His eyes went wide, and he laughed, coughing, wheezing slightly.
But his eyes had been closed for just a second. Just a moment. Just enough for me to close the gap, my shoes protected from leaving a noise from a gust of wind that sent me sailing forward, through the air. A perfect arc. A perfect, lovely arc.
His eyes shot open and he met mine, bloodshot, near death, wanting nothing more than to end this.
Inched from his chest, the sword gleamed an elder red. It sang for blood.
Then slipped through his armor like butter, and then farther inside until it slammed through one of his lungs and out the other side. The heat radiating off of his body burned my skinned and battered my muscles.
But this was no b-lister who would die as easily as being impaled. This was an S class villain. The kind that could take over small countries.
So the blade, eating and feeding on my flesh, that left my hands burning bleeding messes as it ate at my nerves, flicked out as he stared at me, blood beading down his lips twisted, flicked up, and drove through his neck.
Things were severed, and his arms let off twin blasts of energy that melted the buildings around me.
What courage I had left me all at once and left me prone, across him, hands dripping with gore, ichor, and metal polish.
Then I slumped completely and laid there, with only the sound of burning asphalt and the smell of my own boiling skin as company.
But I, Gale. Had done it. I’d finally saved the damn day.