The Com went dead in my hands. The office was oppressive, in that moment, with dust motes floating in the air and the weight of the world on my shoulders.
But he’d told me what to do. Told me how long.
And I was willing to trade a lot for those few minutes.
Stepping out into the main room, I cleared my throat. “Graveyard, now.”
“What about the schools? Shouldn’t we evacuate them?” Hands asked, looking up from her laptop.
“It wants what’s in the Graveyard.” I said, firmly. “And that’s where we’re going to be. Everyone else…”
My eyes scanned over the crowd in front of us, and I swallowed. “D ranks, you’re not allowed to come. Go help with the evacuations, we’ll be able to get at least some people over to Fairhope.” I paused, swallowing. “Tell Zephyr I’m sorry when you get there.”
“Everyone else, if you’re not at the graveyard, evacuate everyone onto the causeway. I know there’ll be accidents,” I said, sweeping my gaze back and forth. “But we’ll figure that out later.”
They weren’t moving. They reminded me of the day of the first funeral.
The room exploded into movement.
Couldn’t afford to overthink this. Go with what feels right.
Pull every trick and plan I had in the books.
This was serious. This was go time. No cute tricks. I didn’t know what the hell a Lost Boy was, but if it was serious enough to call down an airstrike on a crowded city, I knew we weren’t playing around.
In the distance, I thought I could hear the fel noises it was making, the whistling song and screaming that made me think of a distant marching band rather than a hell beast after the sanctity of the grave.
I pulled up the com, and started up the emergency radio.
“Anyone who has ever been higher than a C rank, report to the graveyard. We have a defence to hold. Anyone else… We’ll see you later.”
We didn’t let anyone else into Hands’s car. Didn’t want them to see how terrified we were. Didn’t them to hear us saying prayers.
The graveyard wasn’t far away. I wished it was farther as Hands death gripped the steering wheel in all three of her hands. Wondered how her father would’ve handled it.
Knew she was thinking the same thing.
“This is it,” Colton whistled. “This is the big top, isn’t it?”
“It is,” I said. “Top of your game. Go all out.”
“Really go all out?” Colton asked. “You might get hurt. I don’t-” I’m not confident enough, his eyes said.
Wasn’t sure if he was willing to die.
But I knew he was willing, because I knew I trusted him.
I put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “Go all out. I trust you.” And in that moment, I realized I did. I trusted him as much as I trusted Hands. Trusted him more than I trusted my traitorous self.
Was that sad? I could only feel content at the knowledge that they would both have my back. The roads blurred by into nothing, and the noises in the distance only grew stronger.
Then we hit the police blockade, and Earnest standing among them. How’d they get here so fast? They had to… have heard the radio announcement and volunteered.
They were trained to protect the city.
The car stopped and we got out, cape trailing behind me.
“There you are!” The impromptu police chief said. “We heard your orders over the radio. What’re we working with here?”
“There’s a,” I paused here, considering I had no idea how to explain to him exactly what was happening. “A thing, a villain, very powerful villain coming for the graveyard. We’ve gotta hold it off for an hour, or they’re firebombing the city.”
“Who is firebombing the city?” The man asked.
“The national guard.”
The man went rather pale at that, then stiffened, turning to look at the barricade. “But if we hold it off…”
“They won’t,” I agreed.
“About an hour, when I was in the makeshift base.”
“Less at this point,” Earnest said.
“Yeah,” I said, eyeing the blockade. “Do you think this is going to work on the Lost Boy?”
“Listen, Gale. I don’t know what the hell a Lost Boy is,” I realized he was the guard over on Dauphin island. Had met him before, when I’d gone and made the greatest mistake, the one that had gotten me Colton and injected teenagers into everything. “Mobile’s already have one super powered jackass rampage through and kill everyone I worked with,” I could see steel written in his eyes as he looked over what remained of the police force. “I’m sure as hell not going to let the government blow what’s left to ashes. I signed up to stop crime, and save lives,” he said flatly.
“You sure you’re up for this?”
“I’m 38 years old, you’re only 20. The fact I have to rely on you to fight with me is absurd. Let us handle the perimeter, will you?” The man said. Around him, the officers slowly nodded. “It’s our job to put our lives on the line. Just because there are heroes around doesn’t change that.”
I felt tears tugged at the corner of my eyes. I blinked them away rapidly, and tugged my cape beside me. “We’ll remember you.”
“Don’t be morbid,” The man said. “This is our damn jobs too. We’ll remember you, kid.”
“I’m 20,” I said, flatly.
“And we’ll all share a beer with you when you’re 21.” Then he patted me on the back and waved us on through. The cars were wrenched to the side and Hands drove through.
“Hey! If you take too many casualties, retreat and recover, alright?” I shouted.
The man gave me a thumbs up.
“How many people are going to die today?” Hands wondered, faintly, quietly, so nobody else could hear.
“We’re doing this to minimize that,” I said. “Not enough time to evacuate the city, not entirely. We’re fighting for everyone still in Mobile.. It’s just us against that thing now.”
We could hear it in the distance. The screams sounded human.
I didn’t want to know what could make anything sound like that, but they sounded like they came from human vocal cords. The tone and melody made my skin crawl and my mind buzz, but…
“It’s such short notice,” Colton said, just as quiet. “There might not be that many people there when it arrives.”
“Then we fight and hope more people show up.” I said, tone final. More authoritative than I thought I’d ever be able to sound, and more sure than I thought my spine could allow. “All out, you hear me?”
“All out,” Hands agreed.
“For Mobile,” Colton whispered.
It had been a while since I’d visited the graveyard. The spectral shift was still there, tugging on equipment, capes, body armor. The air practically shimmered with half remembered glories and old war wounds.. Retired heroes bobbed the place. Where in their prime they might’ve been A and B ranks, I knew they were brittle now. Out of practice.
I was asking too much of them here.
They weren’t soldiers. They weren’t purple capes, not anymore. They were trained in the heart of storms, but their hands were fragile and shaking.
But as we stepped out of the car, they turned and saluted us. Eyes were like steel. Rigidity in their forms I hadn’t seen in quite some time in anything short of the Cuban Patrol members.
While there was fear in the air, there was also hope.
If we survived this, the crisis was over. If we won here, Mobile would be safe.
If we won here, it’d be over.
If we won here, I’d be safe.
There was something firming in that, something rigid, steel like, that ate into my jaw and made it firm, though my heart shuddered and pumped blood like it was dying, I wasn’t panicking.
“Squad!” I barked at the retired heroes as they fell into line. There was a brief moment where they looked at each other. Hadn’t seen them in a while, knew they’d been standing guard almost the entire time. The last line of defence.
Hadn’t ever wanted it to be tested. Had seen videos of some of them in action; grainy footage captured on aging tape reels.
Didn’t want their last moments to be in my eyes instead of surrounded by family.
“Commander?” They asked.
“Hold the graveyard. Protect Faraday’s Tomb at all costs,” I reported, firmly. “We’ll be assisting you.”
Hands shook beside me as the roaring grew nearer. Thought I could see the clouds shuddering with her, thought that the end itself might be shuddering.
I reached forward, and with the aid of the wind, grabbed her invisible hand firmly. “For your family, right?”
She gave me a look that was wild eyed, panicked, but… it collapsed into something more determined. Flustered, off balanced. But…
I could only know she’d do her best. Whatever that meant.
But I was confident in her best.
“For Mobile,” Hands said, firmly, shaking my hand.
For all of our good intentions, I don’t think they amounted to much in the end.
We stood in line with the retired heroes. Heard capes fluttering. Like something out of a tv show, one with clear good guys and bad guys, for once, the situation wasn’t complicated.
Hold here or die.
The simplicity was something I could rally around. No moral complications.
Nothing to worry about except the hearts beating in the heroes around me.
Gunshots rallied in the distance. Forty minutes left. How much time had the town itself bought us? Had it stopped down power lines to try and siphon energy from it, or paused to destroy buildings?
Screams. Not all from the same throat. We stood there, the sun beating down on us, the humidity thick in the air like a toxic gas, the monolithic gravestones around us.
What was a lost boy?
Further gunshots. The sound of broken metal. Crunching steel. Sirens. The sound of gas grenades, lobbed tear gas, mace, the concussive blast of even heavier armaments. The stuff the police were only really allowed to bring out against upper level villains.
I shifted my weight from foot to foot. It seemed real now. As real as Gunze’s body had been, as real as Patrickson had been.
Could hear Rebecca’s voice. Our world didn’t have to be like this. The fact we accept these monster’s existence means we haven’t been working to destroy them hard enough.
Hoped she was wrong. Hoped nobody else had ever had to deal with it.
Because down the street, I could see it. Towered over cars. Could see it walking towards the countless graves around me. Studded in pale white wounds, I could trace every muscles on its form, skin sliding off of it as bullets severed it. Blood dripped down from muscles larger than my head as bullets made their way back out of its body. Pink skin, freshly grown. Could see raw bone etched through, exposed. Could see it all, throbbing to the beat of a monstrous heart.
It had the clean shaven head of a baby, of something pure and innocent, but with the black eyes of an animal.
A spark went off from a downed powerline, and the street, covered in gas and hampering fumes, went up in flames. Just a moment’s hesitation, and then it kept right on walking. Fire dances across charring skin that crackled off and regrew before my eyes.
Com went off. I didn’t break eye contact with it as I opened the device
“It’s breached the perimeter. We’re taking our wounded to the hospital, we’ll be back in twenty minutes.”
Cars roared off.
First line down.
I swallowed. “Got it,”
A gun went off behind the creature, and as it turned, it knocked over another electric pole and single mindedly hunted for the man.
Simply put a hand on his legs, and the other on his head and pulled. Wet tearing of fabric, flesh, bone, muscle, sinnew.
Then crammed the corpse into its mouth. Chewing noises and cracking snapping bone. Could be any of us.
We weren’t indestructible.
Hands shook beside me, and Colton adjusted the grip on his handfuls of knives.
“Be careful,” I said.
Death paused from its feast and stared at us, blood painting the front of its chest, pale quivering muscles like nylon and synthetic thread winding across its frame.
Out of my league entirely.
Forty minutes left. Just had to hold it off for just under an hour.
I swallowed. “Squad?”
“Yes sir,” came the voice of some of them. Others were quieter.
Couldn’t blame them.
“You know what to do.”
Wasn’t about just Mobile itself. Was about all the people inside of it. People who had helped dig through the rubble. Families, quivering, wanting to know what to do. The Mayor’s office, desperately trying to tell people everything was alright. Fishermen in the harbor.
And it was on me to keep it protected. Was this a sick joke? Was someone going to jump out behind me and tell me this was a prank, that I couldn’t be expected to do this?
One of the retired heroes buzzed as lightning wound its way in front of them.
“Don’t fire yet,” I said. “Every moment it’s over there is another moment we don’t have to deal with it.”
The Lost Boy meandered down the street, head scanning. Each swipe of his massive hands destroyed a power line, destroy lights, tore at electrical systems. Cars were pulverised. Store fronts smashed.
It was after the energy of the area. It wouldn’t be long. Couldn’t be long until it found the greatest source of energy in the area.
Had to go through us to get it.
Thirty Eight Minutes.