I closed my eyes. There was a horrific crunching of bone. It’d stay with me for the rest of my life. But when I opened them again, instead of Colton mashed into broken slivers and quivering meat, there was Osteor, the Bone witch, coated in gnarled yellow bone, holding back the beast’s body.
Colton stumbled back, his eyes wide, and fell into the puddle behind him, shaking.
“We’re at work, actually,” The doctor said, softly. “So I think the proper term is Osteor.”
Her hand rose into the air, and the agony that was spreading through my hip abruptly stopped as the bone listened to her commands instead of the command of the flesh.
Then with a massive heft of her body, I could see why she was still an A rank. Why she defied proper classification, as she hurled the beast back into the graves. They shattered like chunks of stone, one by one, as he slid through them.
“I thought you weren’t going to fight anymore,” I said, staggering over to her side. Pain receding. Mind returning to me. A bit of hope. Just an inch here and there.
“Sometimes, when you don’t have the time for a perfect solution that satisfies all parties,” Osteor said, stepping forward. “You make due with imperfect solutions. Regardless, this is the exact foe I have spent my genetic career fighting against.”
“The Lost Boy?”
“Why is America so careful with their children, Gale?” Rebecca stepped forward, and threw her arm out, and the bone writhed across the being before her, struggling to obey her command.
My heart sank into my stomach. “It’s a kid. It’s a kid that didn’t get detected by blood.”
“It’s a Lost boy, It self perpetuates and defines its own existence outside of the context of contemporary reality. It is Lost. And it will remain a boy,” Rachel said, throwing her head to the side. “Because it can never be allowed to grow up. Ironmarrow, stand!”
Mary had been twisted before, and now she was untwisted as her bones and skeletal structure, while made of iron, obeyed the command of the bone witch. It cracked and chafed as rust and blood fell off of her form, piece by piece. Her face was slack and horrified by her reanimation. She hadn’t been dead… but she’d been making her peace with the world in the rain puddle she’d made when she fell.
Then both of the grotesque weapons of war stood in front of me and Hands and Colton and stared at the creature.
“Time?” Hands asked.
“Gale,” Rebecca said, slowly. “You’re limiting your options. Think. What if you knew no reinforcements were coming?” She gave me a look. “What if you knew Excelsior wasn’t the one who killed Lost Boys?”
It struck me then that Excelsior’s blade probably couldn’t take out a lost boy by himself. He was hinging on something… hinging that we could all overpower it. Perhaps there was some experience with overpowering one, but in my world, in the world I was living in, right then, right now, there was no overpowering it.
“They’re.. Not coming?” I asked.
“No. Hypothetical. They’re not coming. What do you do?”
I stared at the creature and thought for a long moment. I’d… been doing it again. Wanting someone else to save me.
And so many people were dead.
But they had not died because of me. Because every moment they had bought me had been another moment for me to think of something stupid.
Something that might just save us anyway.
“I find a way to kill it,” I said, flatly. “But we’ve been trying-”
Rebecca threw me a look, her eyes yellow from her transfiguration into a creature of bone instead of poise, of strength instead of raw intelligence. “You were a part of an Eradicator squad. Think like an Eradicator. Kill that which you cannot contain!”
Then Mary and Osteor were taken in a single body slam as the creature stood back up and rammed them.
We were waiting for Excelsior. He could take them on…
But if Excelsior wasn’t coming… there had been another member of the Eradicator squad.
My eyes flicked over to Faraday’s tomb.
Heavy, metal. Lead lined.
But inside of it was a suit of armor capable of suppressing powers. If only we could…
“It takes an absolute ton of energy to run that suit,” I muttered, pacing. Trying to ignore the screams and scrapes of both Ironmarrow and Osteor as they battled.
“But… It’s in of itself a source of energy,” Hands said. “Can’t we harvest it?”
“No, no,” I said, gesturing around us. “If it were that simple, we wouldn’t be able to use powers here, if the suit were powered from Faraday’s corpse. And the radiation alone could…”
“The radiation could…” Hands said, her voice quiet.
“Don’t worry about the future,” Colton cut in. “Think Gale.”
My eyes slid onto Gunze’s tombstone… and then past it. To where Negalli had been lain to rest.
Thought it over. Thought back to how Gunze had died; the man could turn into threads and was unkillable, and he had died under that suppression field.
If we could generate one. Just for a bare moment. The Lost Boy didn’t make sense in the bounds of conventional physics. Just a moment and his heart would collapse under the pressure, or his brain would stop working, or his nervous structure, knotted, looped, visible would go off.
But the radiation alone might…
Needed time… but…
Imperfect solutions were better than a perfect solution when time wasn’t available.
Now was not the time to think. Now was the time to do. Think about the now. Don’t think about the repercussions.
“We’re cracking open tombs.”
“Which ones?” Hands asked, as I walked over to Negalli’s final resting place. I gestured at the villain’s grave.
“Crack it open, you two,” I said, barely audible over the pounding rain.
Negalli had been cremated and stuffed into a headstone less grave, left with just a plaque announcing his existence. As Hands mashed open the lead lined coffin, digging through the shallow dirt layered over top of it, the elder gleam of the powered armor stood in front of me. I ran my hands over it, noting how it was caked and corroded from the villain’s own blood. Behind me, the clock ticked, but not fast enough. Not ever fast enough.
Hands tossed the urn filled with Negalli’s ashes onto the ground. It shattered into pieces, then the dirt inside was swept away by the torrent of weather.
Fifteen minutes, but we were about to do something incredibly stupid and lose time. And in this rainstorm…
It might take longer for Excelsior to get here.
My hands fumbled across the surface of the armor until I found the most protective place, right under where I’d stabbed him.
“Colton, use your knife to pry the screws off. Hands, take the bolts.”
There was only a few conceivable ways such an artifact could operate. Obviously, it ran off of a separated power source from Faraday, probably something that drained energy from Faraday, flickering in and out of a powered state. Otherwise, there would be no energy to run the device because Faraday would be cancelling out his own power, leading to a state where the reason why the device wasn’t working was because Faraday’s powers weren’t working, which would create a constant flicker back and forth.
Therefore, there had to be a battery in Faraday’s suit.
There was also a battery in Negalli’s suit. Ergo, a power source.
They stared at me for a moment and then obliged me, and with a hiss of air, it opened into a small battery.
Didn’t know what it was, not really, just knew it was hot, powerful. Could feel my skin cooking just touching it, felt it ache and burn and boil, but I was beyond caring about petty pain, my bones freshly grown again, and my legs locking and clicking against unstable bone growths that I knew wouldn’t last much longer, I kept it safe from the building rain, leaning over it. Steam hissed from the ambient moisture of the graveyard.
Everything was on a time limit. I hated it.
“Hands, palm it. Keep it from getting wet,” I ordered.
“Yes sir commander,” Hands said. Then I stood up and the both of them followed, and I stumbled, half awake, half delirious, over to Faraday’s grave and stared at the monstrosity.
This was assuming a great many things, most of which I understood and had thought through. Faraday’s armor was made from the same technology as Negalli’s body; designed to harness destructive energies in safer manners.
Therefore, they could use the same energy source. Hopefully.
It wasn’t a perfect plan, but… If it worked, we’d be saved. If not… Well, I knew how it could go wrong.
Faraday’s body could still be emitting an immense amount of energy that could spontaneously kill us all when we breached it.
Unlikely; the box had no means of venting itself, and even the lead would start to melt under the onslaught if that was the case.
Faraday’s armor could be less than intact.
We didn’t need it to be intact. We just needed it to be intact enough to make it work
We could die from radiation poisoning.
This one was completely possible, but the firebombs that could come to our position when they detected The Lost Boy eating Faraday would also kill us rather quickly. And Faraday’s corpse could have undergone spontaneous transmutations into fissionable elements, and yet…
I heard Mary scream like she’d been stabbed. Couldn’t look at her through the rain. Couldn’t stop to mourn. Didn’t want to think what could break Mary when the bone witch was there, bolstering her. Would Rebecca be next?
Then, would they truly be alone with the monster?
“Are you sure about this?” Hands asked, staring at Faraday’s tomb.
“Not at all,” I said. “But… Thirteen minutes.”
I looked up and regretted it. Only the Bone witch was fighting, dancing in the rain, dodging blows nimbly and sending spires of bone to harass and pepper the beast.
But even the bone spires were glancing off of the armor.
“We don’t have thirteen minutes,” I said, firmly. “So this is our best shot.”
Hands blew out the front entrance to the crypt, scattering rock and words among it. The inside was a pale off greyish blue.
“We’re going to need to do this quick to minimize exposure.”
“We live in the now, not the later,” Colton said. “Let’s do this.”
Colton cut into the soft left, stabbing across it again and again, scouring it until he broke through. He panted, sweat blood and rain decorating his form, and then Hands lifted the corpse of Faraday out of the box.
I stared at my dead mentor and tried not to vomit. The elements had not been kind to him, and he was not the man I remembered him, but sallow skinned and decomposing.
But I knew where to start. I tore off the gauntlet on his hand and hefted it.
Like I’d thought. It was almost a match for Patrickson’s gauntlet. Must’ve been made by the same person; Faraday’s father. Remembered where the thickest armor on Patrickson’s gauntlet had been. Best place to keep the power supply.
I hefted it and looked it over, feeling it with my fingers. It was hot. Not literally hot, but it cooked my skin like the surface of the sun. Blisters peeled across my skin, spreading like wildfire. I wanted to scream, but all I could get out was a hysterical laugh.
I laughed. “It’s hot.”
“It’s radioactive?!” Hands squealed.
“Yeah,” I said.
The Lost Boy scored a hit against Osteor, and bone shattered and drove the A ranker through a gravestone, scattering pale white across the dirt.
It turned to look at us. Osteor struggled to her feet, cracks interlacing her body. Somehow, her healing had been overwhelmed. Too much of a hit, too little energy. Any number of factors.
It could smell Faraday behind us. Could smell the radiation.
My hands felt the compartment where Faraday had worn it, and discovered it involved bloodied needles covered in grime. Prongs that had never retracted from the dead man’s flesh. Ran my fingers along it to clean off the grounds, then swore. The socket I was looking for was jammed. The entire piece was warped from a direct hit against a building, from Faraday’s death.
No, the power compartment was locked and I knew why, instantly.
It was designed to be locked unless it was worn. So that power could only be siphoned off of it while there was someone inside to control it. Standard safety feature.
“It’s locked,” I muttered. Fingers played against it. Desperately wanted it to be any other way. “It’s gotta know there’s a hand inside. It’s gotta feel a living body.
Hands quirked an eyebrow at me, and I laughed. “No hands, you have to hold the battery in place.”
“I’ll do it,” Colton said. “You’re already beaten up.”
“No Colton,” I said. “You’ve gotta be ready and connect the battery to the terminals when the compartment opens.”
I swallowed again, and again, tears beading my eyes.
It was powered off of the user’s vital force.
Weakest person here was left to try it.
I swallowed, stared at the empty compartment, stared at hands, stared at Colton. He slowly shook his head.
I nodded. Faraday was left handed.
So my left hand would need to be sacrificed.
Needles jammed into my skin as it clicked into place, feeding off of my bioforce; the power my cells gave off. Too quickly, energy poured into it. Flowing from my body. Head went fuzzy, numb.
Somehow, despite the charring of my flesh, and the broken bones, and the utter terror of the moment, the needles diving in hurt more than anything else. As the glove powered on, they dug deeper, deeper, deeper deeper deeper
Into the marrow, where it could dine upon my innermost depths. Hunting for something. Would it find it before I died?
Tears ran down my face and I shook, my left arm going limp. The weight tugged at my hand, and feeling left it, piece by piece.
But I wouldn’t fall. It was just getting a read of me. Might eat everything of me, but not yet.
Slowly, surely, I raised it back up, my body shaking, and held it up to Hands.
“Hands… the battery…” I stammered, flexing my hand in the gauntlet. The energy siphon flipped out. “Jam it in.”
It didn’t fit, and the battery clicked uselessly against it The compartment was warped. Like I’d expected. Could feel myself slipping. Could feel it tugging on my soul.
What was the gauntlet that it could deny me the wind?
“Co-colton…” I whispered. “Connect them. Hurry.”
“Not yet,” Colton said, staring ahead, where the Lost boy was slowly approaching. Each step left gaping footprints in the muddy grave dirt. “We need him closer.
Tongue was going numb. Vision scattered. Black things danced in the corner, taunting me with the promise of a final death. Like something on the other side of the void, waiting, watching.
Thoughts slow. Wished…
Wished that time
Didn’t move so slow.
Heart slowly thumped in my chest. Each movement ached as the gauntlet frantically tried to power itself off of my body. Siphon everything away.
Radioactive, my skin charred. Hurt like a sunburn. Not much longer.
Worry about the now. Not the future. Stand up. You need to see your father.
There are more paths than these, Gale.
The beast stood before us and roared one last time.
Colton connected the battery to the energy, and I heard the glove start to power on.
If I had been thinking clearly, I would’ve realized that using Colton’s mind to channel electricity wasn’t the greatest idea, but his other hand clamped down on my shoulder, and I saw determination flash in his eyes. Might made right. He was willing to do this.
I trusted him.
And in that moment, I knew Colton was righter than anything I’d ever known before. Hands kept the battery clamped into place and protected from the rain, and Colton’s knives turned red hot as electricity, foreign, strange, and utterly wonderful, poured into the gauntlet.
Hands stared at me, not the monster walking towards us, and our eyes met. She wasn’t going to look away from me if I passed.
Someone would know what I had looked like in my final moments.
“Keep it up,” Hands whispered, but I had no energy left. It tugged on deeper things. Frustrations I’d never interfaced with. Inferiorities that made up too much of my personality to get rid of. Things that I had never known made me who I was.
The gauntlet turned on, abruptly, and the wind roared against our position. The Lost Boy stared at us standing between it and its hottest eternal meal and grinned.
Osteor, her armor cracked, clearly on her last dregs, lunged at the creature.
And the gauntlet, held between the three of us, jerked once.
And in the wake of the explosion, reality reasserted itself.